I took advantage of the holidays to finish a new short story. It is inspired by Andy Weir’s short story, The Egg, and combines elements from my sci-fi fantasy series, Pearseus, such as The Waters of Oblivion (also referenced in Pearseus), with some more recent thoughts. I hope you enjoy it!
Everyone Deserves A Second Chance
Waters of Oblivion
While I wait for you, I take in the beach. This is my home. The deep, calm sea—too dark to make out anything but the soothing waves that lap my feet. Dark silhouettes surround me. They would crowd the beach, were it not for its immensity. Old and young, men and women, take slow, dazed steps into the abysmal waters. Guides like me help them in. Not that you need us for this. Ancient, forgotten instincts would drive you forward even if we weren’t there. But we pride ourselves in that special, personal touch.
Smaller, translucent silhouettes come out of the sea, too, like baby turtles going the wrong way. Other guides are there to take them to their new homes. You will be following them in no time.
And now you’re finally here. When I left you at your bedroom after you had swallowed all those pills, I was wondering how long it would take you to join me. Not that time matters. Not here, anyway.
You shudder after the unpleasant experience of going through the death portal. “What… what happened?” you ask.
“You got what you wanted,” I say. “Congratulations. You’re dead.”
You rub your arms as if to warm yourself up. Death will do that to you. “I was expecting…” Your gaze jumps up and down the beach. “I don’t know. Something else.”
“You killed yourself,” I point out. “It wouldn’t be Heaven for you.”
Your eyes open wide. “So, I’m in Hell?” You take an involuntary step back. “I don’t believe in Hell!”
“Hell doesn’t believe in you, either,” I say with a chuckle. The confused look in your face tells me you didn’t appreciate my little joke. “There’s no Hell. Not the way you mean it, anyway. But your next incarnation might be pretty hellish, I’m afraid. So, yeah. In a way, you’re going to Hell.”
You stare at me and I can see you’re trying to wrap your head around all this. Maybe I should go slower. “Why?” you ask in protest. “I was a good person. Never hurt anyone.”
This is my favorite part. When the blinkers finally drop from your eyes. “Is that right?” I wave my arm in dramatic fashion. Not that I need to. Hell, I don’t even need to take a human form. It just makes the whole thing more fun for me. And, I guess, less scary for you. “Let’s see your life, shall we?”
Bubbles pop into existence around us, each playing out a scene from your life. I pick one. “Let’s start with the big one. You had everything a man could ever want. More money than you could spend in a lifetime—never mind how you got it. A beautiful wife. Two wonderful children. How did you use all this? Did you help anyone?”
You stare at the scenes in the bubble, obviously confused.
“You spent all that money on things that pleased you. Treated the world as your own private playground.” Cars, houses, a swimming pool, they all show up briefly in the bubble. Scenes from fun trips, now part of a previous lifetime.
“So?” you ask.
“Meanwhile, people around you were literally dying of hunger.” I pick another bubble, pushing it with the tip of my finger until it hovers before his eyes. Inside it, it’s you. You, ignoring countless beggars on the street, time and again. Hungry children staring at you through fancy restaurants’ windows. All that stuff you shunted from; everything you pretended didn’t exist. The choice you made to ignore the pain of others.
“Everyone does that,” you moan.
I dismiss your excuse. I didn’t even show you the people you’d screwed over to get your money. There will be plenty of time for all that. “Given your lack of empathy, we then took your money away,” I continue and push another bubble before your eyes as the previous one pops out of existence. I know this one will hurt you but you need to understand. Inside the bubble is you, hunched over a desk, holding your head in despair. “It was supposed to be your wakeup call. To show you that life isn’t about the pleasures. It’s about learning and growing.”
“That was you?” you hiss.
You clutch your fists in rage. “You’re the one who took it all away?”
My shoulders rise in a shrug. “It was you who made the choice to squander all your resources in that money pit of a house. You put it in a stock market about to crash. You burned through cash like there was no tomorrow. We just didn’t stop you. We respected your freedom.”
“My freedom?” You point a furious finger at me. “You took my wife away. My children.”
“I don’t think you understand how this works. We set up a stage. Hand you the props. What you do after that is your choice. Like it was your wife’s choice to leave you and take the children with her.” I shake my head. “Not that she had much of a choice, if we’re honest. Instead of learning from your mistakes, you were increasingly depressed. Instead of seeking help, you withdrew. You stopped caring for anyone, even your own kids. You’d left your family long before they did.”
“That’s not fair,” you scream. It’s good to see you get some fire back after what depression did to you. “You did this, not me. You’re the devil, aren’t you?”
I purse ethereal lips and click my tongue disapprovingly. “I’m just a guide.”
A hint of a memory sparkles in your eyes for a moment and you tilt your head quizzically, studying me. “I know you, don’t I?”
“We’ve met in the past, yes. We’ve been through all this a few, well, a few million times now, I guess.”
His knitted eyebrows told me he didn’t believe me. “Why can’t I remember you?”
“Give it a little time and you will. The longer you stay here, the more will come back to you. All of your previous incarnations, our past dialogues, everything.” I point at the sea. “But you’ll be in there before any of that happens.”
Pain flashes in your eyes for a moment. You’re starting to remember. “Why do I have to go back?” you ask in a hushed voice. “I don’t want to.”
“Life is a school you can’t escape. It’s what you chose.”
“I did?” Your eyebrows meet in bafflement. “When?”
“Not you, personally. Your ancestors. When they chose to eat from the fruit of knowledge. They didn’t stop to think about how they’d gain knowledge of good and evil. Had they stayed in Heaven, they would have evolved the way angels do. Much less pain that way. But they chose the hard way. All they could think about was becoming gods. They would have done that anyway, but they didn’t want to trust God. So, it’s Earth and a few million reincarnations for you. Until you learn to tell good from evil. Wasn’t that what the serpent promised you?”
You almost double over, the weight of countless deaths overwhelming you for a moment. “But it’s so much pain,” you whisper.
“How else can you grow?” I ask with a shrug. “That’s why there’s evil on Earth. The choices are as stark as ever. And you keep making the wrong ones. How is that our fault? You think of us as demons when we’re just there to make sure you have a choice.” I let out a soft chuckle. “Wouldn’t be much of a choice if the world was all rainbows and candy-farting unicorns, would it?”
You raise begging eyes at me. “Please, don’t send me back.”
I nod with genuine sympathy. “Here’s the thing,” I say gently. “When you killed yourself, you didn’t just hurt yourself.” With another wave of my arm—what can I say, I’m a sucker for drama—I expand a further series of bubbles. You can barely see the faces inside but their pain is palpable. So much so that it seeps out of the bubbles and covers you like a cold, gray shroud.
“Stop it,” you cry out and wrap your arms around you in a vain effort to console yourself.
Despite what you think of me, I actually like you. I don’t want to cause you any unnecessary pain. But you have to understand what you did. So, I ignore your protests. “You said you didn’t hurt anyone. You’re wrong. Your children lost their father. Your parents lost their child. There’s no worse pain than that. Even your wife mourns you. She really loved you, you know. You must understand that.”
You raise your head in defiance. “All I understand is that I needed more money. If I had more money, none of this would have happened.”
I make a silent note of that for your next incarnation, ideas forming in my head. “If you had more money, you’d still be depressed. Depression is your spirit telling you that you’re on the wrong path. It’s a warning bell.” Concern grows on my face. I feel sorry for you. For the wrong lessons you’ve learned. But it’s okay. Your next incarnations will help you understand. I touch your shoulder and point you to the sea. “Come on. It’s time.”
You slap my hand away. “No!” Your frantic gaze jumps all around. “There’s gotta be another way.”
I nod toward a cross of light on a hill. “There is. God felt sorry for you. He took pity on you. He sent his Son to show you another path back to Heaven. If you believe in Him, you don’t have to go back. You can continue to learn in Heaven, not Earth.” A smirk plays on my lips. “But you don’t believe in Him, do you? You were born Christian, yet never knew what that meant.”
“That’s not my fault,” you say in protest. “I still went to church.”
“Did you now?” I chortle at this. “Jesus’ path isn’t about clocking hours in a building. It’s about spending every hour of every day trying to become a better person. Trying to love a little more. To serve others the way He served mankind.”
I hide the fact that we’ve made sure that message was lost in time. Couldn’t have Jesus get in the way of how we do things. One person every thousand years. That’s how long it takes for a soul to reach Heaven our way. Why rush things? If God has a right to show humans a shortcut to Heaven, we have a right to honor the original agreement. This is our world, after all. Our kingdom.
“Don’t worry,” I continue. “You’ll have plenty of time to figure it out.”
You look at me, a dejected look in your eyes. “So what? That’s it? I’m supposed to… what exactly?”
“Now, your soul dies and your spirit enters the sea.”
I smile at your bafflement. No matter how many times I’ve explained this, you still forget. I raise three fingers.
I point at finger one. “Your body is where your soul lives.”
Finger two. “Your soul is your personality. It changes with each incarnation, depending on your life and choices. And it dies with each reincarnation.”
Finger three. “Your spirit is the immortal part of you. The divine spark. It absorbs your soul at the end of each incarnation. It uses everything you learn in life to grow. When it’s time, it will join God again.”
“So my personality, what makes me… me. That dies? Now?”
“Not a great loss,” you mutter.
You seem resigned. It’s probably the spirit talking, realizing the wasted opportunity this incarnation has been for you. Which means that your soul is getting ready for its death.
“This personality, your current soul, isn’t strong enough to survive the second death,” I explain. “When it’s the right time, your last personality will join your spirit and move to Heaven as one. That’s what Jesus promised; life eternal. He wasn’t referring to your body, as you know. Of course, you can also reach eternity if you go through life enough times.” It just takes an eternity to do so. I keep that last thought to myself.
Your gaze fixes on the sea. “I guess there’s no sense delaying the inevitable,” you mutter.
I say nothing. I know this next part well. It’s not pleasant. Your mouth will open and your spirit will leave your soul. Like a balloon when you let out the air, you will drop to the ground and flail your arms and legs. An anguished cry will escape your lips. A feeling of dreaded cold will chill me, sending a shudder down my ethereal spine. And when it’s over, the remnants of your soul will dissolve into the ground. Your spirit, thin as air, will hover before me for a moment before walking into the waters.
Second death is a bitch.
I wait patiently for it. I already have several ideas for your new incarnation. You wanted money, so I’m thinking of making you super-rich… and making sure you push away everything else that makes a life worth living. That will teach you the real value of things. All I need is your approval. Spirits are usually obliging, that way. They see the wisdom of our way.
Of course, I won’t tell you that I’ll also be throwing all sorts of distractions your way. Like I did this time. Distraction upon distraction, until it all goes pear-shaped and you have to go back. And then go back some more. Life after life. Incarnation after incarnation.
After all, we don’t really want you to grow out of our school. Or what would we do then?
No. We don’t want you to leave for Heaven. We want you to stay here.
The surprised look on your face makes me realize this is taking longer than it should. What’s keeping you? Why aren’t you dead already—for good?
I lean forward. “What’s the matter?”
You open your mouth.
Ah. This is it. Second death. The corners of my lips quirk into a light smile.
You lower your head, mouth still agape, and stare at your chest. Instead of your spirit escaping your mouth, you try to speak. “I… I’m feeling…”
Your body convulses. You vanish in a blinding flash.
The smile vanishes from my face. Damn! I hate near-death experiences. And one where you got to discover everything before going back, no less. God knows what you’ll do with that knowledge.
I conjure a chair and sit down to wait for you to return. Not that I need the chair but it somehow feels the appropriate thing to do. After all, it may take years. Or seconds. Time flows differently up here.
I drum ethereal fingers against the chair’s leg and let out a resigned sigh.
Oh well. Everyone deserves a second chance, I guess…