Short Story: A Most Unexpected Afterdeath

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I didn’t mean to become the oldest person in recorded history. It just happened. Much like I never planned to be faithful to my wife, it just happened. I think that sometimes planning ahead allows a person to say to themselves, “Just this once.” And of course once is never enough. So when I got the inevitable questions about the secrets to living a long life, I had to admit that it was more about avoiding things rather than in doing anything in particular. The urge to drink too often, or jump out of a perfectly good airplane, or any sudden changes in my level of activity. I never got into the Jane Fonda thing, or the fad diets, but I always had some kind of project.
Maybe that’s why I’m writing this down, now that I’m dead.
I was lying in my bed, and suddenly I knew it was time. Funny that… a sudden “knowing” that you are going to die.
There was no one in the room with me. I suppose I could have hit the panic button to summon Karuly, the Jamaican attendant who told me jokes and actually wanted to do a good job. But I didn’t. There was really no one I wanted to share my experience with. Having outlived everyone I cared for deeply, I settled back to enjoy the last great adventure, and my mind surged with the fantasies I had always entertained about what death would have in store. Heaven, Hell, or a complete lack of anything, nothing prepared me for what lay ahead, and I knew it. But I was curious as hell. After all, I hadn’t any choice, had I?
A feeling blew through my veins like a cool breeze. I could have shivered, but I didn’t. I welcomed it. My eyelids grew heavy, and I drifted off into the unknown. My final sensation, a slow exhale as my breath left for the last time.
My first impression was that everyone was right. I mean, those who had returned from death to speak of what their experience was. A blinding bright light appeared ahead of me, seemingly an illuminated tunnel, but I was also surrounded by light as well. As I drifted toward the light ahead (I say drifted because there was no sensation of walking), I could see shapes begin to appear. I knew they would be people from the descriptions of those returned-from-the-dead who had described near death experiences. So far, nothing new, and the sensation of comfort and welcome described by them was flowing through me as well.
I still had lingering trepidations, though. After all, I was just now starting to be dead. I had always wondered if these stories were just a prelude to a sudden blackness into nothingness. But again, I had no choice, so why not enjoy?
Out of the mist ahead my wife stepped forward toward me with her hand outstretched. She looked to be the age when we married. Why I didn’t start to cry is inexplicable. Instead, I gripped her hand and drew her to me, feeling that familiar body mold to mine as only she had ever done. Yes, this was really my wife. Any doubts flew out the window.
Walking seemed natural from this point on, as I met my children and grandchildren next, and then my parents. My mother was easy to recognize, even though she was in her mid twenties. Her dark, flashing eyes were the same as always, filled with the exuberance of life and an insatiable curiosity. She wore a pair of pleated linen khaki pants with a sharp crease top to bottom, and a short sleeved white shirt to match with a pocket over each breast and stylish comfortable shoes. Why do I mention her clothing? Because it was clear that she was dressed in the style of her times among the living. She was attired as a progressive and forward thinking dish of the late nineteen-thirties, and her bright red lipstick accentuated her bold statement.
My father was dressed similarly, in the dress of their common experience. He, too, was in his mid twenties, even though in life he had been ten years older than my mother. He also had both eyes. The one he had lost in an automobile accident when he was twenty, no longer cloudy and deflated, was now blue and just as piercing as the other was.
Behind them, my grandparents and other relatives in the dress common to their day, as well as friends that had gone before me, all surged forward. There were some people I had never met but would come to know as distant ancestors. A few didn’t look quite human, if you know what I mean. They were dressed in the garb of their times, too.
To say that I basked in the waters of their love does no justice to the feeling I was experiencing. There is no way to describe many emotions adequately, and anyone with a similar earthly experience will understand.
During a group hug I happened to look down toward my feet and suddenly realized that I was naked. This was where the near death experiences described to me prior to my death parted ways with the reality of my new experience.
I looked over at my wife as she stood next to me, then looked down again at my body. I was a fully fleshed mid-twenties, just as everyone was. But I had no clothes.
My wife leaned in close and, whispering in my ear said, “We all arrive naked, my love… and all you have to do is imagine what you want to wear and suddenly you’ll be clothed.”
Feeling her breath against my ear once again, it was hard to concentrate enough to process what she had said. This experience was starting to overwhelm me. But I got a grip on myself and asked her to repeat what she had said.
“Yes, Babe, if you want to be wearing something, all you have to do is imagine yourself in it. Or you can remain naked. Nobody cares.”
A mental image came to me, unbidden, and I was suddenly in my old sweats. Dark sweatpants and a grey top with several stains and a few holes in various places, comfortable wear for an old man that was wheeled about by an attendant more than he walked.
My wife laughed. She understood.
Leaning close, she whispered once more, “Try again. You can do better than this.”
I don’t know why my wife’s clothes hadn’t registered on me. Perhaps it was because I was lost in her very presence, but now I took the time to see that she was dressed in one of my favorite outfits from our early years together. I imagined what I would have been wearing when I was with her in that outfit, and looked down to see sandals on my feet, embroidered bell bottoms, and a blue tee shirt displaying a can of Olympia beer.
“That’s better,” she whispered, and I knew everything was going to be okay.
I don’t know how long we were gathered, but eventually I started to notice my surroundings. As I began to look about, the light and mists parted and faded away to reveal a very natural-to-me landscape. More or less a manicured meadow surrounded by not very tall forest. A few tables were scattered about with food and a variety of colored liquids in punch bowls, but there were no chairs. People sprawled in the grass or played tag or threw Frisbees, or gathered in small groups on large blankets to make circles so they could talk easily. As people began to drift away (I say this carefully, as it wasn’t really a *leaving*) they made a point of approaching me for a last hug or handshake. When I turned back toward them from some distraction, they were gone. Well, not gone… just not *there*. Humph… words fail me.
Finally my wife and I were alone, and taking my hand she led me to the one big blanket still on the ground, saying “I’ve been waiting for this, ya big stud.” The leather halter top fell off of her. Gawd, I had missed my woman.
Speaking of God, I had seen nothing. I mean, where were the Pearly Gates? Where was Limbo? Where was that pesky Lake of Fire? Here I was, alone in a beautiful meadow with a woman who I had loved in life and whom was now happily plaiting a crown of wildflowers for her hair, and doing it in her birthday suit… and there had been no mention of any kind of judgement or consequences or Eternal Damnation!!! So far, death was treating me pretty well.
We had a talk and she gave me the lowdown.
It turns out that we had been harvested.
Now, before you jump to conclusions, let me say that being harvested is not what you might think. It turns out that the supreme being in an infinite universe is… us. Well, not exactly us as in human beings, but us as in ALL intelligence. All beings of enough intelligence to think, plan, desire, and generally have a survival instinct.
This might be where it gets a little sticky for most people, because it isn’t what you are used to thinking. It turns out that the closest thing to God is a Collective Super Intelligence made up of all experience and learning… ever. A supreme being without the capital letters denoting deity.
The Collective harvests anything and everything intelligent as it dies, and we all become part of that Collective. It has done so forever. Some people might call that God, but it really depends on your definition of what a God is. The Collective doesn’t have any supernatural powers. It didn’t create the universe, or life, or pull a rib from Adam to make Eve. If anything, it observes. That, and stores information.
The components of the Collective, those of us that have died, are of several types. First off, there are some that never matured. They manifest as light, and if they choose, as individual balls of light. My wife’s little sister, the one who died during childbirth, was introduced to me at some point as this ball of light. I couldn’t speak to her, or she to me, but she could surround me with emotion, and I could feel her presence as I was being engulfed in the illumination that was her. Pure love.
Anyone having reached the age of self awareness advances toward maturity, so if they die early they still learn until they become adults. Everyone retains their own personality, with a few modifications. Mental illness disappears as understanding becomes the norm.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t disagreements, it just means there is mutual respect and a level of tolerance unknown in life.
Everyone gets to choose a path. I say a path, because there is no work to be done. Some intelligences become foragers, or predators, as they were in life. Most, by far, aspire to nothing more. Humans and those others that have inhabited societies involved in changing their environment can choose different paths. Some become wanderers, inquisitors, conservators, philosophers, or comforters. There are far more paths than I can name, and I may never learn them all. Each have their own names. Wanderers are Travelers or Trekkers depending on how they choose to travel. Inquisitors are Seekers. Conservators are Keepers. Philosophers are Sages. Comforters are Holders. People choose, and no one is glued to their path, they can choose several at a time or focus on one as they see fit.
I found out that I could join into a melding-of-the-mind kind of thing with anyone I chose (That adds a new dimension when making love). Some intellects stay joined most of the time, by choice. The meld becomes a huge, infinite mind engaged in understanding all that is. Thomas Jefferson is one who rarely breaks away from the Collective.
Oh yes, there are famous people that we all know, but others matter as much. I have met an alien that led a life of torture that performs comforting, a woman who lived in an ivory tower who provides charity, and a man who we knew on earth as a cult leader and murderer and whom we found to be insane, who is a great sage.
This melding thing is amazing. I can’t say that it occurs in any specific place, but I picture it as happening in the center of an infinite universe. I know that is an oxymoron, but that is how I see it in my own mind. When I join the meld, I become all that is. I lose my own individuality and become the whole. That means that I know everything that can be known, or at least that has ever been known. I can experience through all the other minds the sum of all experience, all learning, all pain, love, terror, exhilaration, as well as discovery. I know the history of an infinity. I would have said that it would be mind blowing before I experienced it, but now it just seems obvious.
How did this Collective come to be? That is a good question. There is a commonality that occurs in all intelligence. Once a species gets to the point that they are changing their environment, usually associated with acquiring opposable thumbs but not always, they start to acquire technology. Technology, invention, industry, leads to an ultimate conclusion. Eventually the intelligence gets to the point where their physical being and their minds start to meld with their machines.
I know, humans aren’t there yet, so you don’t see it, quite, as fully possible. When I died we were years away from this step. But look around you. You see amputees with artificial limbs controlled by their brain activity, you see people who can speak by using their eyes to control an artificial voice, and soon you will have the ability to download your mind into an appliance so you no longer need a corporeal body. That means that you will effectively become immortal. And the last step will be to blend minds.
The thing is, that urge to survive by any means leads to the Collective. Each step, one by one, over obstacles and false starts, until a newly formed collective meets the Collective. Some species never get that advanced, but the collective doesn’t care, they harvest intelligence regardless of any species fully realizing their potential. There are species that have come within a skosh of downloading their minds, fail, and they are still harvested when individuals die. There are also beings that have never become technological, by far the vast majority of species, and they are harvested, too.
What it all means, is that what we see of ourselves and others is really energy, but in a form that our mind can comprehend. Not electrical energy, or nuclear, cold fusion or dark energy, but the weakest kind of energy, the bond between spaces. That is why we can meld. That is why we can imagine things, and those things appear. That is why we can be in various places at one time, and we can call out to each other and gather together. That is why the living can’t see us.
You might want to know about the “first.” That first species to realize immortality, the first one to blend minds. Well it doesn’t work like that. We live in an infinity, remember? There is no first, any more than there is a last. It is like we are on a loop, a place where the past is the future and the future is the past. But with infinite events destined to happen before the loop completes and starts over. That’s a bad analogy, too, as there is no starting over, ever.
There you have it. Nothing you will not learn for yourself. The inevitable conclusion to life for all of us. I suppose I could publish this in some obscure venue, but I doubt I will. But I have written it down and left it on a desk somewhere, so we will see, eh?
My wife and I now wander the infinite worlds as Trekkers, she also a Holder and I a Sage at times. We walk everywhere except between the planets and galaxies. Between earths we fly, faster than light at the speed of thought. Well, more properly at the speed of imagination. Our old yellow dog travels with us, and sometimes the Aussie. We gather with friends or family, and their friends when we choose, both to investigate the worlds and to compare notes in between laughter and enjoying a sunset or rise. When we need a path, we imagine one and it is there. When we grow tired, a cabin with a comfortable bed and a full pantry appears around the next bend. When we are thirsty, water wells from the ground or babbles in a brook. When there is a storm we play tag in between the lightning bolts.
Sometimes I wonder if this is real. It is certainly as real to me as my old life before death.
I have met others as they emerged from the fog of dying. I have welcomed them to… Heaven? Whatever this is, they float into our presence in the form they died, old, crippled, mentally challenged, and on meeting the first person they contact, they change. Suddenly they are in their mid-twenties, hale, hearty, sane, and naked without realizing it. I watch their surprise, their relief, and understand it.

After all, I thought I was going to Hell…




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