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I died. It wasn't a particularly spectacular death, in fact it was fairly embarrassing. I suppose I have nothing better to do right now than to relate to you the sorry state of my corporeal body before I left it.
I tripped, you see. Such a trivial act, but I hadn't been paying attention to where I was going, and fell. I used to silently laugh, thinking on it, that my first instinct was to save my phone, reasoning that I would heal, but my phone would break. But this occupied the use of one hand, one hand that may, or may not, have saved my life. My other hand hit the ground first, but bent back with a horrible crack. My head was next.
So I died. The next thing I could see, I was standing just inside a huge chasm, tapering endlessly behind me into a tiny white pinprick of light, while a large gate stood in front of me. My first thought, I remember, was that I was dreaming, because I had grown to believe that there is nothing after death. I believe I felt curiously relieved, standing at the gates to heaven, because, oddly, that meant I was alive.
But I was wrong, and not for the last time in my afterlife.
Julian, a low, dark voice had echoed within my mind, I am afraid you are certainly quite dead.
My head was suddenly filled with memories that were not my own, images from the eyes of a woman, then doctors and undertakers, and finally, a small scene from the perspective of the man who pushed the button that sent my body to be burned. Then I was back in my own... being. Shaking, alone, and very, very dead.
I have, far too often, wondered why I went to such a cliché as the 'Pearly Gates,' and the most suitable of the two-thousand, seven-hundred and eleven reasons I came up with, was that it was the closest thing that the deepest recesses of my belief -or lack thereof- allowed for the crossroads, and that everything after death is subjective.
You are one of the tricky ones, the voice spoke. Not evil, but certainly not good, and not even a believer, but too good to go to hell for eternity. So you will go there until you can answer the question that has plagued your species and many others for countless aeons; 'Why?' It spoke this almost mechanically, and I imagine now that those lines had been spoken to an almost infinite number of souls before me.
It is odd, and even now I wonder 'Why?' I have decided that The Lord God, or Lucifer, or both as one (or would it be Both?), or whoever was speaking to me, gave me a question just 'in case,' so they didn't feel guilt, if indeed they could, for sending every complicated soul. It was a convenient get-out clause that allowed Him/him/them/whatever to forget about us without having us clutter up heaven.
But that's just my idea. I have had others telling me, in the one-way conversation that everyone does now, their own theories, and occasionally I have graced their ideas with a glance in their direction. One person I even looked in the eye, just to break the monotony. It helps them, I think, to know I am still here.
The next thing that happened is simple enough to describe, the cave tore away into shreds, and I was falling. Cursed as I am with a near-perfect post-mortem memory, I have counted that I fell for three hundred years to the second, and fell into a pool of unimaginably unoriginal lava. I knew, before I reached it, that the afterlife would be precisely like the books. And I had preemptively shed my tears for it. It hurt me more that I was burning for my sins than the burning did. I guess I'm still just stubborn.
I spent several years, I think (forgive me, but time was not what my mind was on at that part of my afterlife. To remember, it helps not to be consumed with pain), tumbling and swimming and screaming. Every breath brought fresh heat and fresh magma into my lungs. Occasionally, I would hit what I assumed was the rocky walls of the cavern. And, brief though they were, they did give me moments of false hope.
The human mind can only take so long of absolute and eternal pain before it begins to work through it. For me, this could just as easily have been a day as it could have been a millennium, I truly cannot tell you how long, only that it was more lungfuls than I could bear to count. After this (the souls Above call this the shock period), I began to think frantically about 'Why?' I tried shouting, but I can say after three attempts, chasing the same few bubbles of air I had recycled for however-long through the seemingly infinite stream of molten rock, shouting the damning word did not help in any way.
A little (or a lot) longer, and I began training myself to count, to think of several things at once besides pain, and eventually I could form cohesive sentences in my head. After that, the pain became abstract. It felt like it was happening to someone else. Someone like me, but who was not me. The me that I was only wanted to know 'Why?' and wanted to know it fast before I went mad... If I hadn't already. I still cannot remember much of how I managed this feat, nor what happened during my frantic philosophising. I think I started on logical questions, like 'Why me?' and 'Why am I here?' I can say that I found a use for reading on the philosophies, Descartes, Socrates, Rousseau. Solipsism, Nihilism, Hedonism, Pantheism, General-Term Theism, Polytheism (relative to monotheism, of course). Eventually, I was reduced to realizing every possible answer to every possible 'Why?'
I heard a story that a few people, each with hyper-advanced mental discipline, managed to time their stay in hell. They averaged at around four thousand years. They boast that they could endure any pain, and still maintain a clear mind. How I pity them.
I can't remember what combination got me out, but that I was still blabbering like a mad hermit when I was on a marble floor. I remember the last 'Why?' I managed was “Why does the rubber not fly through the glass?” I gave up on that one once I noticed I was in the chasm of the gate once more, and for the first time in... Actually, I don't think even He knows how long I was down there, but for the first time in ages, I breathed in. I was disappointed.
Well done! the hated mechanical voice congratulated, after I had reasserted my own existence, You have passed the test, and are now free to enter through the gates of heaven.
I know precisely what hurt me more. That the Being had decided that I, being difficult, had given me a test. And that that test was done in such the way that I neither knew anything more than I had before (besides the second best way to ignore hell), to the point that I didn't even know the moment that I had passed. That I had answered the most important question in existence, and probably outside existence, with no more understanding than an infinite number of monkeys understand the intricacies of Shakespeare. And that, to top it all off, God, or whoever, didn't seem to mind. He was content just that I had put the square peg in the square hole, even if I'd done it by accident.
Close contender to what annoyed me though, was that I couldn't even bloody remember the 'right answer.' If I could see God, I would have punched Him. There was a time, between thirty seconds, and five-hundred and... Let's call it almost six-hundred million years after passing through the gate, that I thought hitting him would be a bad idea.
Since then, I've decided that I'd rather the molten hell than this.
When I entered heaven, I quickly realized that it was as superficially unimaginative as hell. You could summon, create, say, do, and become anything. You could talk to the greatest thinkers the universe ever had, has, or will have, while eating at a recreation of the universe's best restaurant. Not that you needed to, because you never got hungry, and any flavour you wanted would materialize on your tongue for as long as you want. You never needed to learn anything, or talk to anyone because, besides being pointless, it could all be done instantaneously by wanting it.
You could live your own life again, you could live someone else's, you could live one of your creation, or pick up where you 'left off.' You could reprogram your personality, so that you were a bit nicer, or a bit cleverer, or a bit more persistent, or a bit lazier - although not many bothered with that, as far as they told me, because it felt unnerving, being able to change who you are. You could do anything, except die.
This was all knowledge that flushed into my perspective of reality within the first few minutes of staring out at heaven, sometimes an empty horizon, but at the flicker of a thought, bustling with people. As I have sat here, people have told me that you are never really talking to someone's soul, or looking at them, you are looking or talking to an identical copy, that branched off the original the moment he decided he didn't want to talk to anyone. Unless the person wanted to talk to you in the first place, but then he might want to follow a different branch of the conversation, and who's left with who then? And what if the copies want to talk about different topics? I have long since stopped thinking or even caring about such questions. If pressed, however, I would have to say that a God that has this simple-an idea about heaven and hell, where hell is eternal lonely burning, and heaven is 'a nice place to go,' then conversations between beings cannot be that complex. It seems outside His retarded mental capacity. But then, I have never explored such ideas. I have just stayed here, and listened.
The first thing I created was a glass of apple-juice, I'll save more exotic liquids for when I get truly desperate for stimulus, and alcohol even after that (if alcohol has any effect, of course). The next thing I did was ensure that I never had anything like the muscle aches my physical body had, the pain you get if you stay too still for too long, and your body itches and groans to move, and gave myself the body I died with. Then I sat.
You see, I had quickly realized, having thought about this for no small amount of time while alive, that an eternity of anything is an eternity of boredom. There is an unlimited number of eons with which to get tired of any single task. No matter how fun something seems, eventually, it will lose its spark, and while the next thing may be incredibly interesting, for as long as you have a conscious mind, you will inevitably grow tired of it. It is a vicious, hateful cycle which I can only assume hasn't been going on long enough for anyone to feel. Others have realised, of course, but very few have given it too much thought. Hedonism permeates throughout the multiverse's existence, it seems.
To combat this inevitability, I resolved to make my existence as long as possible. I planned to take a sip from the glass every billion years, but each time I reached the mark, I found that I had no wish to drink. Space had no influence here, so I was observable to everyone, should they want to see me. Often, they would talk to me, try to engage me in conversation, but each time they were greeted by only silence. After a few thousand years, I had built up a reputation as a great listener, a feat that made me smile inside, and brightened my existence for many centuries, because, as you can imagine, with everybody who ever was, gathered in one place, to earn a reputation of any sort is something to be pleased about. The novelty wore off, of course, relatively quickly. But if there is one mission, one reason to be alive, it's that I can and must listen to the unending torrent of happy, thoughtful, weepy, depressing, shouting, playful, evoking, inviting, deepening, sexual and boring talks that these people offer me.
And this is my existence. My me. A statue in the gardens, the streets, and the emptiness of heaven, with no wish to do anything besides talk. I look at the clouds now and then, hanging solidly in the air. I'm sure they only exist because I want them too. I have often wondered if my one-way interactions with the others here are the same, but I try not to think about that, because I always find no reason not to believe that, and get depressed. Nobody, insofar as I can tell, has ever seen God. Whether that's because he doesn't want to be seen, or, as some suspect, because he doesn't exist, is irrelevant to me. All that matters is that I haven't, nor ever likely will, have the chance to strangle Him. I heard an interesting theory that God is in fact a computer, systematically categorizing people and applying values of merit to them. It makes a certain amount of sense, sometimes.
People keep trying to get me to move, to do something. They say that they aren't bored yet, and they don't think they ever will be. They claim that I must have lost my sanity. Maybe they're right. But I haven't ever heard of anyone else losing theirs. I think I'll stay as I am.
I'm passing my trillion-trillion-trillion year mark, three triplets. I find now as good-a time as any to put my memory to use. A woman whispered to me a few days ago. She said that someone had learned how to forget. I have never before in heaven smiled.