The man was falling and flying, every second going deeper and higher into the seemingly endless expanse of black nothingness. He could not say for how long this continued or how many lifetimes had passed. He simply continued his journey into the black.
And then he stopped. He had hardly even noticed, but his bare feet had finally met with solid ground, smooth as polished marble. He looked around, lost. The nothingness seemed to extend infinitely in all directions. He had no idea where he was or in which direction to go. He tried to call out to anyone that might hear him. He called so many times, but his throat never became raw and his lungs were never empty of breath.
But no one answered.
After an indeterminate amount of time, the man ended his futile yelling and, with no other options, he chose a direction and began to walk. The air around him did not move and his footfalls made no sound. There was nothing but silence around him and as he thought about it, he could not tell if even his calls had made a noise.
As he continued to walk, the man began to realize that he had no memory of what had happened before his arrival at this strange place. He did not remember being born, he did not remember his name, he did not remember his adult life, and he did not remember dying. And it struck him.
The man had died.
The man began to panic and screamed silently, calling into the darkness for someone to help him and to tell him what had happened and why. But the darkness did not answer.
Until it did.
As the man continued his calling, a voice was suddenly clear and apparent from in front of him.
“You poor creature, please quiet yourself. I hear you.”
The man was immediately silenced by the sudden presence of this new voice. And from the blackness, a figure emerged. It was the figure of a woman clad in a red cloak, whose color was nearly blinding against the absolute black of the world around them, and little else. And her hair was somehow darker than the darkness.
“I hear you,” the woman said again. “Tell me what you need.”
The man fell to his knees before the woman and begged her for clarity. “Where am I?” he said. “Why have I been brought to this desolate place? What has happened to me? Please, I beg of you!”
The woman listened quietly until the man was finished speaking. And then she smiled. That smile frightened the man more than he had ever been frightened.
“Why, you’re dead, you silly fool. And this is, how do I put it? Your final destination.”
The man was confused. Though he could not remember his life, he did seem to recall that the Afterlife was supposed to be a place of great peace and happiness, and not a place of solitude and darkness.
“And it would be, were that a place to which you deserved to go,” the woman said, as if hearing his thoughts. “But I know you. And you don’t,” she said, no longer smiling, but glowering at the man. “For your sins, you deserve to be here, in my home. And you deserve my punishment.”
The man began to weep. “But, there has to be some mistake! I cannot remember living, much less any sins!”
“Perhaps you’re right,” the woman said. And for a moment, the man’s spirits soared. “After all, I’ve only been doing this job since the beginning of time and never once made a mistake. But hey, I suppose it had to happen sometime. I apologize.” And she held out her hand to the man.
Naively, the man reached for her hand, but he was immediately struck with magnificent force by the woman.
“Now you listen to me, creature,” the woman said with a new, paralyzing ferocity. “It is not nearly as easy to get here as people think. So, you know when I say that you deserve everything that I am about to do to you, you can believe it beyond a doubt.”
The man began to beg again. He began to plead for any compromise, any way to repent and be spared this torture.
The woman simply said, “No. This is where you belong”. But then she smiled again. “But don’t take my word for it. You may see for yourself.”
And with that, the woman turned and began to walk away. “But who knows? Maybe you’ll be forgiven,” the woman laughed. “You won’t see me again,” she said as the darkness enveloped her.
The man did not want to be alone again. He scrambled to his feet and chased wildly after the woman and called out to her. But he could not catch up, and she did not respond to his calls. And soon, the man was left alone once again.
After an eternity of mourning, the man finally brought himself to his feet. He thought that perhaps if he kept walking, he might eventually find the end of this place. It was a small hope, but it was all on which the man had to hold.
So he walked.
He continued in one direction for a long period of time, neither his eyes nor his legs ever becoming tired. He took one more step and was suddenly confronted with an image. It was as if a window had been opened in the blackness and no matter which direction the man turned, the image was always in front of him.
The image vividly depicted two young men involved in some kind of struggle. One of the boys, the more muscular and fit of the two, was grabbing at the limbs and head of the other. The smaller one tripped over himself and ended up in a heap. The larger boy grabbed him from the ground and put him in a headlock. But as he was being pulled up, the smaller boy had extracted something from his pocket. It was nothing more than a pen, but with a desperate movement, the boy drove the pen deep into his attacker’s Achilles tendon. The larger boy, with a cry of pain, loosed his victim and fell. The smaller boy spit on the larger one and walked away, laughing all the while.
Then the image vanished and the man was alone in the darkness again. He did not fully understand what he had just seen or why. He stood for a long moment wondering and calling out, “That’s it? The roughhousing of an angry boy? Is that why you brought me here?! Who are those people? Damn you, answer me!” But, unsurprisingly, there was no answer. Dejected, the man resumed his long walk. He noticed with some surprise that the ground beneath his feet felt cracked now.
As he walked, the words of the cloaked woman began to ring in his head. “This is where you belong. But don’t take my work for it. You may see for yourself.”
Before he could make sense of it, the man was faced with another image.
The boy that had wielded the pen in the last scene was now in a kitchen of some kind. An argument with a middle-aged woman was unfolding. His mother, perhaps? The man heard their voices as if through glass. Vague sounds resembling voices. But what these people were saying would turn out to be irrelevant. The boy turned away from the woman and began to walk away. The woman reached out to him, but the boy spun and struck his mother, knocking her flat. The boy, without even looking back, stormed from the house.
And once again, the man was alone. He took a step back, taken aback by the scene that had played out in front of him. As he did, he felt a sharp pain run through his foot. He fell backwards, and as he did, there were more sharp pains through his back. The ground beneath him had become even more cracked and seemed to be lined with sharp, invisible rocks. As he rubbed the pain from his body, the man began to understand his punishment in this place. The boy in the images was indeed the man as he was in life.
So, the man walked forever. As he walked, more images of the man appeared in front of him, each time revealing a sin of increasing severity. He witnessed theft, assault, and numerous fistfights with his father. And with each image, the ground upon which he walked became more treacherous and painful. But he became increasingly enraged as he watched. Though these crimes were heinous, to the man, they certainly did not seem so heinous that he should be punished so severely. He cursed the woman that had cursed him so.
That is, until he witnessed a murder.
The poor woman had done nothing but throw a drink in the man’s face. The man quietly followed her for the rest of the night. When she was alone in an empty subway station, the man grabbed her, dragged her to a supply closet, and stabbed her innumerable times in the face and chest. The image then cut to the man watching his television, his murder being reported on the news, all the while muttering things to himself about the woman “getting what she deserved”. Then the newscaster stated that a suspect had been apprehended. The man burst into hysterical laughter.
The image vanished and the man stood, stunned. The floor was now as millions of upturned nails beneath his feet. Despite the severe pain he was suffering by standing in place on such a terrain, the man was afraid to move any more for fear of what he might see next. He fell to his knees upon the nails and wept again.
When he finally ceased his cries, the man noticed that the darkness around him seemed to become much more oppressive, closing in on him until it felt as if it were physically pushing him to continue. The man could barely stand the pain of walking on the floor of nails, but he could not resist and the darkness forced him to keep walking. He was in tremendous pain and frightened beyond words. The visions had not stopped or repeated yet, and he did not want to know what still awaited him.
The next vision began to play in front of him. The man closed his eyes tight, but the image was projected on the inside of his eyelids. There was no escaping it.
Since he had gotten away with his previous murder, the man had entered a relationship with a young woman. But, the young woman had left him for another man. It was this man and woman that he proceeded to torture for days on end using every torture method that he could imagine before finally killing them on the fourth day. Their bodies were never found and the man was still a model citizen in the eyes of society.
The man begged the darkness to stop. He could witness no more. “Have I not been punished enough?” he cried. “I cannot bear to see any more! Please, I beg of you, end this torture!” The ground beneath him was now as molten rock, sending immense pain throughout his whole body with each step. But again, the darkness forced him onward. It became so oppressive, that the thought of resisting it became more frightening to the man than walking across this burning ground and the skin of his feet being constantly and repeatedly melted. So, he turned and walked. And before he could even think to object further, the next image flashed before him.
The man saw himself, now very skinny and exhausted. He was in a basement staring angrily at two other people tied to chairs. The man recognized them from previous visions as his parents. The man was leaning over them, yelling something at them. Again, the speech was garbled, but one sentence rang through. “You deserve to be here, in my home. And you deserve my punishment.”
And with that, his parents were killed.
The vision changed. The man was now on a dark and empty stretch of road, handcuffed to a telephone pole. Staring directly at him was a police officer with his gun drawn. The officer was yelling in the face of the man. The man laughed. The officer tore his badge from his uniform, threw it to the ground, and shot the man in the head.
The man stood. He could no longer feel the pain in his feet, or anything at all. He simply stared straight ahead. When he finally did feel something, it wasn’t pain or remorse. He felt a strange satisfaction. When that officer had pulled that trigger, the man felt that justice had been served admirably.
“That officer will never need to see this place.”
The voice had come suddenly and the man was snapped from his stupor. Standing in front of him was the woman in the red cloak. Though a look of sorrow had replaced the look of hatred that she had originally shown.
“I hope you understand why your punishment had to be like this.”
The man nodded.
“Then, I have something to show you.”
The woman gently placed her hand on the man’s shoulder and they were immediately surrounded by a blinding whiteness. The woman stepped aside. When the man’s eyes had adjusted, what he saw was a pair of giant, brilliant gates standing before him.
“Do you know what this is?”
“Is this--?” the man said.
“It is,” the woman replied. “Will you enter?”
The man looked to the woman, amazed at the offer. The man laughed. The man wept.
The man refused.
“Of course I will not enter!” the man said, “All of the time that I spent in the blackness was meant to shown exactly why I should not be allowed, was it not?”
“Then I am glad to see that you truly do understand.” The woman smiled sorrowfully as she put her hand on the man’s shoulder. “This time, you really won’t see me again.”
The ground was smooth and unblemished and the man began to walk, awaiting the images. Forever awaiting the images.
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Enjoy, and Viva La Toucan
Laura, Toucan Editrice
Enjoy, and Viva La Toucan
Laura, Toucan Editrice