It had happened just like that. A sharp pain in your chest. The blurred image of the world as you fell to the ground, the brief sound of someone's panicked scream, and then black.
You woke up a little while later -- well, you didn't really wake up, per se, but close enough. You were confused, scared even. There was no doubt about that. But I can't really blame you. It'd be a shocking event for anyone.
You pulled yourself off the pavement and looked around. The same park you had collapsed in just minutes ago. You pull out your phone to look at the time but it was dead. It was night, the sky gave you that much information. You looked around the park, still quite perplexed as to what exactly had happened.
Usually, this is where I would come in and give you the rundown, but I was late anyway and I didn't have much else to do that night, so I decided to let you ponder for a little while longer.
You decided to take a shortcut through the park on your way to work. You remembered a sharp pain and collapsing. That was it. There was screaming, you remembered that too. Of course, there was. Plenty of people had been around.
Your mind was racing with questions. Why didn't anyone help me? Did they just leave me here? Did I have a heart attack? But in that moment none of them had a clear answer. You started to walk down the path to go back home. I followed a few steps behind you.
You stopped and looked around one last time before you left the park. You didn't see me. It wasn't time yet. You would see me when I wanted you too. Just as you were about to step out of the park and back onto the streets, a jogger happened to turn the corner and was running towards you.
"Hey," you said as you waved to him.
The jogger kept running at his same pace and ran right past you.
"Hey!" You yelled once more. He didn't stop.
"Ok, whatever, man!"
You had no time to deal with him. You needed to get home and figure out what had happened. Charge your phone. Call your boss. Maybe go to the hospital.
You walked out of the park. Your house was a few blocks away. A quick walk. You'd have all this figured out in a little, you thought to yourself. You thought that maybe you had just passed out from dehydration or something -- it was a hot day after all. That still didn't explain why no one had come to your aid. None of it made any sense to you.
A few cars and people passed by you as you walked down the street. You didn't try to flag them down. You'd be home soon enough, there was no point in bothering anyone.
I followed closely behind you and watched as you suddenly stopped in your tracks. You realized for the first time that you couldn't hear any of the sounds you normally heard. There was no humming of car engines passing by. No voices from people on the other side of the road that were quite clearly talking. No honking of cars from a far off source like usual. It was amusing to watch you so confused, but I could certainly sympathize with how you were feeling in the situation.
You clapped your hands together a few times. You heard that. You stomped your feet. You could hear that too. You picked up a nearby rock and threw it at the metal siding of a nearby public mailbox. The loud metallic clang erupted into the night with a sharp ping. But you couldn't hear anything else that was going on around you.
You began to panic. A reasonable thing to do I suppose. You stood there for a moment and looked down at your feet. Suddenly you screamed out at the top of your lungs.
"Can anyone hear me!" Your voice echoed through the night but no one turned their heads.
A little down the street someone was walking towards you. You started to approach them. I followed behind you. I figured now was probably the best time to explain everything.
You approached the person, a young twenty-something girl. You stepped in front of her.
"Hello, can you hear me?" You said to her. She kept walking. You stuck out a hand to put it on her shoulder.
"Please, I don't mean to bother you but--" before you could finish your sentence she walked right through you.
You froze up and stopped talking. It was probably quite the shock. There wasn't much feeling in the interaction. A slight buzzing feeling radiated through your body, but that was about it. You looked over your shoulder and saw the young lady continue on her way. Your legs went limp and you collapsed to the ground. You took both of your hands and began to rub them across your face, chest, and arms. They're all there, you frantically thought to yourself. Your breath started to get heavier as panic began to overcome you.
"You're dead," I said.
You looked upon me. Your face was a twisted conglomeration of fear, curiosity, and shock.
"I'm sorry?" You said.
"You're dead," I repeated.
"Well, technically not, it’s a little more complicated than that but I wouldn't expect you to understand. But more of less, yes, you are dead."
"How?" You whisper as your mind tried to comprehend what I was telling you. You knew it had to be true, how else could you have gone right through that lady?
"A heart attack. Nothing necessarily exciting. You gave the lady behind you quite the shock. There was some commotion. An ambulance showed up and took you away to a hospital where you were announced dead on arrival. In all honesty, you probably would've survived if the ambulance wouldn't have gotten stuck behind a car that didn't want to get over, but that's how things go sometimes," I said.
You stood there with the most perplexed look on your face. A common reaction.
"Come, take a seat," I said as I sat down on a nearby bench. You declined to sit. Can't say I don't blame you considering the circumstance you found yourself in.
"But I woke up in the park. How was I taken to a hospital?" You asked.
"Your body was taken to a hospital. Your soul stayed right where it departed your fleshly exterior," I said.
"My soul? So that must make me a ghost then," you said as you stared intently at your hands and arms.
"Well I suppose if that's what you want to call it, then sure, yes, you are a ghost," I said.
"Then what are you here for?"
"I'm here to help guide you to the next stage of your existence."
"So you're Death then? The Grim Reaper of something?"
" I prefer to call myself a helper or a guide, but if you want to call me that, then sure. Everyone has their names for me. Samael, Azrail, Yama, Yanluo, Mot, Thanatos, Ankou, the Grim Reaper. Whatever works for them," I said.
"So then I imagine you're here to take me somewhere then? Heaven maybe?"
"No. I'm here to take you to Hell," I said.
"What?" You looked at me with a sheer look of horror on your face. "Please, I beg you. There has to be something I can do."
I laughed. "Calm down I'm just kidding. There's no such thing as Heaven or Hell -- at least not as you know them."
"Then I guess all the Christians and Catholics were wrong then? I suppose going to Church all those years as a child was a waste of time," you said.
"All religions get some things right. They certainly get a lot of things wrong too."
"That certainly puts all the religious fighting in a new perspective," you said.
"It's ironic, isn't it?" I said.
"So then what's true then? If there's not a Heaven then what is there?"
"You'll be born again. You'll live a new life," I said.
"Will I remember anything from this life?"
"Let me ask you a question: do you remember anything from your past lives?"
"My past lives? You mean this has happened before?"
"Of course! Hundreds of thousands of times before. So many times that I couldn't even begin to count them. You don't remember anything specific, but your soul has been fundamentally imbued with the experiences that you've gained from each life. Such is the case for everyone that you have ever met. It's quite an amazing thing to think about."
You looked down at the ground for a long while. Your gaze wandered across the pavement.
"So do I just do this for the rest of eternity then?" You said.
"It's all in the pursuit of the Final State," I said.
"The Final State?"
"Once you achieve this State all the questions of the Universe will be answered and the knowledge that you soul has gathered will be fully in your grasp," I said.
"How long will it take to get there?" You said.
"One day when you are ready. When you have lived the lives of the best and worst. You have lived in lavish excess and you have lived a life of squalor. When you have been the best president the world has ever seen and you have been the worst dictator that the world has ever learned to fear. When you have saved millions of people, but killed millions more too. When you have served in thousands of wars, on both sides of the line. When you have driven countless people to suicide. When you have broken the hearts of many and have had your heart broken just the same. When you have lived through every emotion that a human can feel and you have felt the greatest joys and pains possible. When you have done all these things, you will be ready," I said.
"Wow, that's a lot," you said.
"Indeed it is. So you best get on our way. No use talking about that right now when you still have so much to do," I said.
"Come," I said as I stood up and buttoned my jacket. We walked down the road a little ways until we came upon a building with a large wooden door. You had never recognized such a door in all your walks past this building. I stopped in front of it and ushered you to enter.
You stood in silence for a long while, your eye's fixated on the door in front of you. I waited patiently. It always takes people a little while to build up enough nerve.
You took a few steps forward, opened the door, and stepped inside. I watched as it closed behind you.
Then I left. And you were born again.