THE END. THE BEGINNING.
I opened my eyes one morning, and was surprised to see my own body lying on my bed. It became apparent fairly quickly that I had died, but there was no sign of how. There was nothing to be done about it. I felt no sadness, nor pain. Just a weird sense of longing for a life I had half-lived. There was nothing spectacular about the things I had done, the people I had met or the choices I had made, but it was still my life, and I still felt a sense of attachment to it.
I turned away from the bed. I didn’t want to look at my pale, dead body wrapped up in the sheets. All that romantic talk about looking asleep was complete bullshit; the pale blueness of the skin, the eyeballs already starting to sink. The mouth hanging open. It was very, very clear that this was a dead body, and not someone who had gone to a better place. I tried to sit down heavily on the old armchair in the corner, but not having a corporeal body makes it difficult to throw oneself around in an emotional rampage. Unsatisfied with the silence and lightness of my body, I let my head fall into my hands, eyes closed. Trying to figure out what to do next.
I don’t know how long I sat there for. It seemed like it had been a few seconds, but when I looked up because of the sound, it seemed as though hundreds of years had passed. Nothing was the way I’d left it, and it looked like my flat had changed owners more than once. All the decor was different. I realised with a strange pang of loss that I didn’t even see my own funeral, or see my family. None of it mattered anymore; they were probably dead as well by now. Throughout all of these thoughts, I kept hearing the sound — I don’t even know how long I’d heard it, if I’m honest. It could have been there the entire time I was alive as well; it felt like it. It’s difficult to describe — so familiar it was as if I’d been unconsciously aware of it forever, but so alien at the same time. I looked around but didn’t immediately see the source. It almost sounded like it was coming from everywhere — a distinct clicking, punctuated with a bell every now and again. I went from room to room, floor to floor, following it, trying to discern if it was actually getting louder or if my semi-imagination was playing tricks on me. Eventually I found myself back in my kitchen, and it sounded as if the noise was coming from the bedroom. I steeled myself, and quickly looked around the corner.
At the end of the bed was a small, horned figure, sitting at a typewriter. Light green skin, the colour of scum that floats on top of stagnant water. Eyes that were almost too big for its head. Clawed feet, and small hands with spidery fingers, typing in a way that almost seemed sped up. I ducked back into the other room, trying to process what I had just seen. I was sure it hadn’t seen me, and was planning what to do next, what to say, when I heard a raspy, high pitched voice.
“Not even going to say hello?”
Confused, I looked back into the room. The fingers were still flying over the keys, but the eyes were boring straight into mine. Realising there was nothing else to do, I walked into the room, sat on a chair, and looked at it.
“Still no hello”, it said, making a small tsk noise as it turned its attention back to the typewriter.
“Uh… hello”, I said.
“Finally! Now, you’ve taken a lot longer than the others, so I imagine you’ll want to just get all this out the way and carry on, right?”
I had no idea how to respond. No question or real response formed, so I just stared blankly. The demon, still typing, stared back. It stayed like this for a while, until I began to feel awkward for maintaining eye contact for so long. So I just said, “What’s going on?”
With a sigh that seemed too big for it’s body, the demon focused back on the typewriter — it seemed as though it was trying to type faster than before. The paper, which should have been piling up by its feet, kind of just… ended. It never got longer. I couldn’t figure it out, so I just looked back at the demon instead. Somehow that made more sense.
“Are you going to explain any of this to me?” I asked.
“Any of what?” it said. I gestured to the room, to the world. “Oh. You mean this.”
“Yes, I mean this! What else would I mean?”
“Well, there’s no need to get all shirty with me, I’m just trying to clarify. Normally it doesn’t take this long, I was hoping you’d figure it out for yourself, if I’m honest.”
“Well, clearly I haven’t, so maybe you should do us both a favour and enlighten me.” The typing stopped for a second, and the world seemed to waver. The clicking resumed, everything went back to normal, and it stared at me again.
“Sorry. That was rude. I’m just a bit weirded out.”
“I understand. Dying is never easy- well, it can be easy. It’s very easy, actually. It’s the bit after that can get a bit complicated.” I sat forward, hoping to finally get an explanation as to what was going on. “I’ll give you the basics and we’ll take it from there. Sound good?” I nodded. “Right then. You’re dead.” I nodded again. “What else do you want to know?”
“You’re kidding me, right?” I replied angrily.
“I said I’d give you the basics. You’re acting a little bit spoiled, if I’m honest, and I don’t know that I like your tone.” My anger finally boiled over. I stood over the demon, and began shouting.
“You’ve just told me I’m dead — something I was hyper aware of the minute I stood up and saw my own body on the bed. That was already obvious to me. What’s less obvious, however, is everything else. Where I am, where everyone else is, whatever the fuck YOU are. I don’t even know how long I’ve been here and you can only tell me that you don’t like my tone? Fuck you!”
Silence. Except for the typewriter, there was silence. Exhausted, I sat down again. The demon looked at me again. “Are you done?” it asked.
“Yes,” I replied, as grumpily as possible.
“Good. Now I’ll ask you again, and I want you to be calm about this — what else do you want to know?” I took a deep breath before I looked directly into its eyes and answered.
“I’d appreciate it if you could tell me what was going on here.”
“Was that so hard?” said the demon, focusing on the typewriter again. “Politeness is so rare these days,” it said, seemingly to itself. I kept quiet. Desperate for an explanation, I didn’t want to run the risk of pissing off this demon anymore than necessary — I was growing tired and irritable, and wanted to be alone.
“In as few words as possible,” it said, “you’re dead. Heaven and hell don’t exist. None of your earthly religions were right. There’s no Valhalla. No Greek Underworld, no Fields of Elysium. You’re in that grey area that the Christians call Purgatory. It’s actually a terrible name, in my opinion, but that’s beside the point. You’re here until you’re ready to be… well, be reborn.”
I took this all in. The typewriter continued. “Okay,” I said, “carry on.”
“Carry on? With what? That’s it.”
“How can that be it?!” I exclaimed
“That’s all there is to tell. That’s what happened, what’s happening, and what’s going to happen. At least- nevermind,” it said hastily.
“What? What were you going to say?” I asked.
“Fine. I may as well tell you, you won’t remember any of this anyway. I was going to say, at least, when I decide it’s going to happen.”
“What does that even mean?” I asked, confused.
The demon sighed, still typing. “Look, I could tell you, I guess. But I don’t know that you’d want to know. Everyone I’ve told has gone into their next life remembering what I said, in part, and it’s made their lives… difficult.”
“Well, you’ve already started. And I want to know. Don’t I get a say in this?”
The typing wavered again. The room shimmered and warped, but settled as soon as the typing continued.
“What happens when you stop typing?” I asked.
“You know, in all the years I’ve been doing this, nobody’s asked me that. Interesting.”
I waited, hoping for more detail, but it never came. “Are you going to tell me?”
“You might? Depending on what?”
“How I feel. Give me some time to think it over.”
“I don’t see the point in that. You’re either going to tell me, or you’re not. Somehow I get the idea that you already know what you’re going to do, so by not doing it, you’re just keeping us both here longer. Which is something YOU didn’t want.”
A twisted smile appeared. “Nice rebuttal. Fine. I’ll tell you.” I shifted forward on the chair, not wanting to miss anything.
“It’s probably a better idea for you to come and see what I’m typing.” I almost ran over to the typewriter, desperate to understand at last. At first, it didn’t make sense, and then all of a sudden — it did.
It was typing everything as it happened. Well, just before it happened. What it wrote came to pass. I looked up the page, trying to read as far back as I could. All I could see was a list of actions that I had already completed, but only after it had written them. I read He stumbles back, confused. And I did. I didn’t bother trying to see anything after that. I just looked at the demon, knowing it knew what I was going to ask before I asked it.
“No,” it said. “Free will does not exist. Everything you’ve done, are doing and will do — it’s being written for you.”
I didn’t see any point in asking anything more at that point. I just stared, wondering what would come next.
“I told you. It’s not something easy to grasp. Don’t feel bad or stupid for feeling so unbalanced by this, everyone else I’ve told has felt the same way. You’re not special, don’t worry.”
“Who else knows?”
The demon snickered.
“Here’s the thing,” it said, “and this might blow your human mind a little bit — you are the only human to have ever existed. Remember earlier I said you were going to be reborn? That’s all that’s happened. Over and over and over again.”
“I don’t get it.”
“You don’t need to, at this point. It doesn’t matter. You’ve still got a bunch of cycles to get through before it all makes perfect sense to you. You’re everyone. You’ve lived and died, you’re living and you’re dead. That whole ‘time’ thing is a human construct within this third dimension. You’ll figure it out eventually. What’s your name again?”
“It’s… I don’t remember.”
“Good. We’re at the end then. Good luck — I’ll see you in… well. It doesn’t matter. You’ll only know when you get there.” The typewriter stopped.
The room began to disappear, replaced by an ever-encroaching velvet darkness. My name was not the only thing I couldn’t remember — it felt as though all my memories were being extracted, pulled from my body as the darkness consumed me. Suddenly, in the black night that filled my world, a pin prick of light appeared, growing wider. I felt myself being pulled towards it; I wasn’t afraid. It came closer and closer, until the black was replaced by a glaring white light. What felt like hundreds of hands groped me all over my body; I tried to shout at them to leave me alone, but all that came out was a strangled cry. The light began to soften, and I heard a voice saying, “She’s healthy! She’s breathing!” as a soft, white towel was wrapped around me. The rough hands disappeared, and were instead replaced by the softest hands I’d ever known. I felt all sense of my old self disappear; I had no choice. All that remained was the brightness of the hospital room, and the comforting feeling of my mother’s fingers as she touched my skin and named me.