Chapter XIV: The Final Decision

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Without rising from our seated positions, the medieval English countryside began to fade, only to be replaced by the quickly approaching train depot.  It rushes toward us, situating stone benches under our bums, before we even have the chance to appreciate the thrill of the ride.

“Well, that was something,” I breathe, reorienting myself with the now familiar scenery.

There’s an indisputable knowledge coursing through me, though, and the words feel like a weak attempt to stave off the inevitable.  A resonating presence of my previous sorrow begins to creep in, fogging the hallowed halls of my bones.  The Guardian is cast in shadows.  Despite there being no time or space here, there are apparently still moments.  Moments when decisions have to be made and souls must part ways.  Because, it wasn’t just my In Between.  It was my brother’s, as well, and he had his own destiny to consider.  His own choice to make.

“Will I ever see you again?” I ask, rather than the ‘please don’t go!’ lodged in my throat.

“Always,” He smiles, his blue eyes glinting just in that way our father’s would whenever he was up to something mischievous or brilliant.  Standing, he holds his hand out for me to take.  “Walk me to my train?”

Saying nothing, I stand and take his offered hand, wishing that my legs felt more like concrete than the airy, weightlessness of eternal youth and divine health.  The piazza is eerily empty.  A ghost town platform, where all of the trains wait patiently for our decision.  The windows are full of those already aboard.  There’s no one left to choose, except us, and the faces that peer out are nondescript.  More manifestations of my own doing, perhaps, rather than actual souls.

“Will you stay longer?” I ask.

Shaking his head, my brother’s smile remains intact, meant to comfort me.  “I have been here for just as long as I needed to be,” He answers.  “To see you again and answer the question I knew you had waiting for me.  The one I heard you wondering about all the while.  Now, I’m ready to return to the living.”

Though there’s a sadness coating my heart, the inside is filled with the joy I’d discovered being with him again, talking with him and finding the peace that finally allowed me to forgive his utter absence in my last life.

“Will you stay longer?” He mimics, with that teasing quirk to the corner of his mouth.

Taking in the scenery beyond and surrounding the depot again, the mysterious glow of the ‘yet to be discovered’ a steady backdrop for the acropolis, taunting my every nerve ending, I find myself smiling when I meet his gaze.

“I want to see them all again, before I make my final decision.  I want to be here for my children, my grandchildren, the way you were here for me.  I want to hug our grandmothers again, listen to dad play the guitar.  I want to hear mom laugh, and try to make sense of our sister’s erratic ramblings when she first arrives, because she’ll be too anxiously excited to slow down for even a second and just breathe.”

Laughing fluidly, my brother wraps me up in a big bear hug.  One that I’d had before, but had missed terribly in my last life. “Thank you for giving me a life of your own imaginings, sis,” He says.  “Though I didn’t get to live it for real, at the time you wanted me to, it was one of those rare dream lives you mentioned.  A truly great life.”

Crying with just as much happiness as sorrow, I return his embrace and just cling to him for a moment.  I know in my heart of hearts that I will see him again.  That I had already shared more than one lifetime with him.  It just felt in this moment, as if the time in between those lives was an eternity.

“Come on, Indiana, you’ve got answers to uncover,” He teases, stepping back.  Kissing me on the forehead, he salutes me and heads for the Opal train bound for New Life.  “At the same time, okay?”

Tapping my chin with my finger, I study the elite trains.  Opting for the platinum one, I grin over at my brother, while he chuckles and shakes his head.

“I should have known you would never settle for simple answers.”

Watching each other, we both board our respective trains as if we’d choreographed this last night on stage together.  The audience participated as passengers, smiling at me with their insipid mouths, a warm welcoming feeling emanating from their presence.  Was it merely the Place Beyond, dangling all it had to offer before my senses, pleased with my temporary choice?  Attempting to lure me in deeper?  I’m unsure and unwilling to waste another second pondering it.  I rush passed them, down the aisle slicing the elegant seats into two rows, wanting only to get to the caboose where I can watch my brother’s train zip away.  Bursting out of the last door, I find him already there, waving and laughing at me.

“I’ve known you for a long time!” He calls to me by cupping his hands around his mouth, for our trains have already begun to move away from one another, the physical consequence of making different decisions.  “We will return home together one day!”

“Maybe, next time, I’ll be your guide!”

Grinning, he gives me a thumbs up and I merely wave frantically, while the crystalline tracks grow increasingly longer between us.  As the star dust begins to float past my train like lazy clouds.  I can hear the rush of a hidden waterfall from my left.  It plummets through the Junipers from the acropolis and into the mirrored sea below.  I’m heading toward the unknown of that Place Beyond, where all of the answers I’ve been longing to rediscover wait for me.  I feel both settled and excited to see the rest of my family again some time soon… or later… or before any of this ever happens.

My brother is heading toward the unknown of a brand new life that may start right after the Babylonian’s built their city atop the ruins of Mesopotamia, or tomorrow, or even in the far, far future when humans are already inhabiting planets in the Alpha Centauri system.  All I know is that we are.  That we still exist; creations too strong to ever erase.

And we go on forever.

In dedication to my brother, Billy.  See you in between…

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Chapter XIII: Veins of Death

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Tree of Good and Evil
by Phatpuppy

“Tell me about the Red,” My brother insists.

We’re sitting now, on a knoll of untamed grass laced through with wild flowers.  In the distance, a sparsely spotted village, where peasants toil the land and till the seeds that will grow their crops come autumn.  It’s a shared past life.  One that I hadn’t realized I remembered, until my brother began talking about it.

Farmers swing their sickles, reaping hay and alfalfa for their livestock, while others bind it to be tossed into the back of waiting wagons.  They’re oblivious to our presence, to their hard labor being witnessed by ghostly spectators.  I look over at my brother and rejoice in his full profile.  In the fact that the sorrow is no longer within me.

“Why are you so curious about such dark things?” I ask him, a bit unsettled discussing something still connected to me.  Afraid that doing so will bring it forth, the gluttonous darkness ready to devour the warm spring sky overhead.

“There’s a sentiment to it that resonates here,” He answers.  “It’s a matter underlining and interwoven, linked to the eternal and to us.  You knew that, somehow, when you created it.”

“It was blood magic, nothing more,” I hear my words, but they’re hollow reflexes, causing me to shake my head.  Exhaling audibly, I pick at the sticky grass clinging to the leg of my jeans.  “It started as a simple swatch of wool.  Then, something truly sadistic happened.  A violent rape by someone purely evil that ended in murder.  Both the victim and the villain’s blood spilled on the wool, saturating it, forever staining it.  It became the Red, then, growing with a life and purpose all its own.”

My brother was quiet for hours, or minutes.  It was too difficult to tell.

“Despite what you claim, dear sister, you’ve always contemplated the unexplainable occurrences attached to the afterlife, to the human condition in particular, how it’s all related,” He says at last.  “You’ve always sought those answers, devising your best educated guess from observations, reading history and knowing what made the most sense to you at the time.  The thing is how close to the truth you’ve always managed to get.”

“Please, don’t say that,” I protest in a whisper.

“What is the Red, if not the beginning of a new life?  Are we not both good and bad?  The balance of both light and dark?  We all have the ability to be saints and devils.  The majority of us strive to remain on that line right down the middle, occasionally stumbling one way or the other along the way, righting ourselves, moving on,” He explains, at once putting it into a perspective I’d always been too close to the story to see.

I saw it now.  The Red, this supernatural material that could grow on it’s own, that was both a shield and a weapon, a villain and a hero.  It desired vengeance, to protect those who belonged to it, while actively seeking to corrupt others.  To taint their existence and change their lives forever, keeping them connected to it, increasing it’s power.  Yes, it very well could be a representation of the human condition, couldn’t it?  Was it not human nature to be all of these things and then some under the right conditions?  How we justify it is up to the individual, but the Red is conveniently supernatural, having to answer to no one.  What kind of choices would we make, if there were no immediate consequences?

“Even your initial belief for the Red’s purpose is connected to your desire for understanding.  The reason why blood magic has always been seen as such a dark, frightening subject – or adversely, as such a powerful temptation –  is not because of the ritual surrounding it,” He continues.  “It’s because the act of the sacrifice, of murder, snuffing out a life so abruptly, leaves a hyper-concentrated energy trace.  Just as any sudden tragedy does.  How or even why, I’m not entirely sure.  Even I don’t have all of the answers yet.  But, we are energy and energy never ceases to exist.  It doesn’t need a body.”

His smile is meant to lighten the mood, make me feel better, but it doesn’t work completely.  My mind races through all of the things I’d ever written, through all of the art I’d ever drawn or painted, sculpted or sketched.  So many obsessive questions about life.  So many veins of death.  Where was the heart?  Where did all of the blood carried through these arteries end up?

“In the answers,” My brother states, easily reading my mind as he had all along.  “The blood of your questions, is the very life of the answers, don’t you see?”

Chapter XII: The Long Way Home

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The concept of time could have crumbled off the edges of the heavens and into the abysmal seas of Tartarus, and we never would have known.  Given that it didn’t exist here, it is not entirely untrue to say that we may have walked for half a millennium.  Only now, each step bled both of our memories onto the canvas of the In Between, while my brother told me all about the lives he’d lived.

Completely enthralled, I listened to his many tales.  Of how he’d been an English soldier in the Seventh Coalition at Waterloo.  How he’d once squandered an entire life away as a back alley hustler hooked on heroine in Bangkok.  He’d been a jewelry maker in ancient Mesopotamia, and a model in the 1960’s who’d lost a long battle with booze, drugs, depression and eating disorders, committing suicide at the young age of twenty-two.  The strangest was hearing about him starting another life while I’d still been living my previous one.

“It was just a regular life,” He shrugged, when I pushed him for details.  “I grew up, went to college, met the love of my life, got married, had kids, did the suburbs thing.  We retired on time, traveled a bit, watched our grandchildren grow, it was a good life.  Not one that would make the history books or the headlines.  Just a really good, ordinary life.”

“That sounds far better than making history or the six o’clock news,” I smile.

“Or Interpol’s most wanted?”

“Right!” I laugh with him.

“It all comes back to experiences,” He reminds me.  “When you decide to be born again, to further enrich your complete understanding of all things, you’re not going to want to relive the same experiences you’ve already had.  Why would you?”

“Even if it was a really great life?” I ask.  “A life of dreams come true, those rare ones we hear about sometimes?”

“Even those,” My brother nods.  “You’ll see.  You’ll remember, once you make that choice, what it’s like to go through all of the options in order to see how each one will affect your spiritual growth.”

“Do you think I will choose to be born again?” I ask, not even sure of it, myself yet.

Sighing, he pauses.  Tries to catch the faint glimpses of our combined memories before they can fade from the canvas.  “Yes, I know you will.  I think there are still answers you seek that you can only get from living.  And, the fact that you’re questioning it is an indication.”

“What do you mean?” I inquire.  “You’re saying there will come a time when I won’t question?  Me?  You know who you’re talking to, right?”

Laughing, he bumps his arm into mine, triggering our pleasant stroll to start up again.

“They say it feels like home,” He replies at length.  “Those who stay.  Those who don’t question.  That you arrive to the In Between, greeted by all of your accumulated knowledge and those souls you’ve spent lifetimes forging bonds with, and there is absolutely no doubt in your mind.  You know it.  You’re finally home and there is nowhere in existence you’d rather be.”

Chapter XI: My Companion Revealed

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In the mere blink of an eye, the depot is replaced by an all-too familiar landscape.  Asphalt and dirt paths duck under trees throwing their darker, dead foliage all over the brilliant, green grass where rows of stone wait to be remembered.  Everything inside of me instantly shrivels, tries to shrink away from that which I am unready to face.

“I don’t want to be here,” I shake my head.  “Why is this different?  How is it all encompassing and so sudden?”

“Because, this is not a place of your own imaginings,” My companion answers.  “This is a place that exists on Earth, in the land of the living.  A place that you physically visited in your last life.”

This brings me no peace!  I still do not want to be there.  I don’t want these kind of answers.  Yet, a part of me knows that it was passed time to receive them.  That I’d been avoiding this very moment all the while.  In a last stubborn attempt of desperate anxiety, I turn to my companion to plead with him to wait…

…and I see him.  I see all of him.  Standing there before me with a lamb lying at his feet; a one-dimensional lamb of patina infected bronze.  I drink in the full features of his face.  His build is nearly identical to our mother’s father, and he is of the same height.  The ginger hair, passed down through the bastards of the British Royals on our paternal grandmother’s side… he has our father’s blue eyes.  All I can do is cry.  I burrow my face into my hands and cry.

“I’ve been with you all along,” My brother says.

“You left!” I sob, lashing out in an emotional way that surprises me more than him.  I hadn’t realized I was angry.  Ever.  Even in life, I’d been unaware.  It made less sense now, yet it was still there.

“I know,” He says, consolingly, stepping forward.  “But you knew I was there, you were more aware when you were younger.  You felt me, imagined what my life would have been like.  What kind of relationship we would have had.  You gave me a past, present and a future in your mind.  Let me experience playing sports, going to high school and being your chauffeur…”

I give a watery laugh that helps dispel some of the sorrowful anger.  The emotions filling my chest are not like the ones before, they’re powerful, triple what I would’ve been capable of feeling in life.  The enormity of it, the fullness, is nearly overwhelming.

“You’ve always wanted to know one thing from me,” He continues.  “Just one.”

Wiping at my tears, I look my older brother in the face and feel as I’d always felt.  A strong, purely spiritual connection, for I’d never known him even for a second in life.  He’d been born and died a year before my birth to the very month.  My mother said that I’d saved Christmas for them.  Had I not been born in December…

“Did you do it on purpose?” I demand.  “Did you leave, so that one of us could be born, instead?  Would they have stopped at two children no matter what?”

This once loving thought, an idea to help my youthful mind try to understand why I’d been robbed of an older brother before ever getting the chance to have one, had once comforted me.  I’d admired him for such a sacrifice, if it were true, but not any longer.  Now, the very thought of it felt like a betrayal of some kind.

Shaking his head, my brother smiles.  “No,” He replies, giving me an answer I’d waited so very long to get.  “I merely honored my end of a prior arrangement.  We know, we’ve discussed at length that experience makes us stronger.  They wanted to experience that kind of loss on a level they felt would be easier to handle.  But loss is never easy to handle, especially when it’s that of your own child.”

“You were the last of dad’s bloodline,” I state in a rise of anguish, recalling how many times my father had grieved over that fact, growing bone-weary of being the family genealogist long before passing the buck onto me.

“They all end at some point,” My brother replies, but there’s a light sparkling in his eyes.

“You’ve been with him!” I gasp, feeling the burst of joy pull at the corners of my mouth and ease the thickness in my chest.

“Yes,” He nods, smiling.  “Mother, too.  Here and in other lifetimes.  Worry not, little sister, I’ve spent quite a lot of time with all of you.  And I’ll prove it, so that you may finally forgive me.”

Chapter X: Choices

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I want to explore more of this In Between place, but know that I cannot yet.  The trains aren’t really trains, merely a manifestation of the choices that lie before me.  I can see them now, beneath their iridescent glow, they are different colors.  The faint bronze of my past lives leaves the platform and disappears across an ocean reflecting the lights from the depot, the cliffs of the acropolis and all that’s hidden beyond it.  The endless star clusters forming galaxies in a universe my imagination insisted on incorporating into this space for some reason.

New lives beckon from various cars of sparkling Opal, and then there are the elite cars.  Yellow gold, white gold, platinum and sterling silver.  They’re hand crafted with scrolling, ornamental designs; flamboyant metal engines of regal quality.  These trains go to places I can’t even imagine.  Heavens, Summerlands, into the realms beyond the In Between and perhaps, even into Paradise, itself.  I have no clue.  They would each carry me to further answers, to further discovery, if I was even permitted entrance to such places.  Had I lived enough?  Was my spirit advanced enough to earn a ticket on one of these trains?

“Everyone has free access to everywhere,” My companion answers the unspoken concern.

I know, somehow, he speaks true.  I can feel the welcoming pull no matter which direction I face, which train my gaze follows.  Like arms open and waiting to draw in the curious to these immaculate conclaves.  To happily reveal the answers, as if telling a grand tale with much enthusiasm and treats, perhaps.  Sweet treats to accompany the massive divulging of divine secrets.  Why not?  I can feel the allure of it deep within the hollows of my materialized chest.  All of these things I’ve already discovered, that I’ve longed to know and that I have known before… these are the afterlife’s currency.

Yes.  That is what happened before, I understand.  My beloved answers were used as payment for the “New Life” train.  In order to gain more experience through living, in order to strengthen my soul, I will have to hand over all that I have already come to learn, all that I may come to reacquaint myself with along the way.  It’s both a payment and a deposit box, entered into these vaults for safekeeping until my return.

“No matter how many trains I hop, answers I receive, in the end, there are really only two choices,” I say aloud, seeking some kind of reassurance.

Facing me, my companion says nothing for a long while.  Finally, he nods quite soberly.

“Correct.  You either stay, or you go.  Born again, you forfeit all of the answers you may find beforehand.  You need to know, there is no right or wrong decision.  It is, as always, your choice.  But you should get all of the answers you truly desire, first.”

Chapter IX: Higher Education

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“That’s interesting,” My companion notes.

We’d returned to the piazza at the train depot, and now peered up at an acropolis of Universities, Academies and Elementary schools.  Maxfield Parrish comes to mind, as I follow the Juniper covered crags up to where all of the structures stand like sentry above the constant to-and-fro of passenger cars.

Slipping hands into pockets, I hunch my shoulders slightly.  It hadn’t escaped me that I appear to be the age I was most content.  Right around my early twenties, when life was really just beginning, full of fun and laughter.

“I was thinking about Kryon again,” I confess.  “He said that everything was a level of education.  That life, the afterlife, before-life, are all stages of our schooling.  The physical world, living on Earth, is simply another grade we have to pass in order to move up the spiritual ladder of wisdom.  Only through experience can we ever hope to grow.”

“Why do I get the feeling that this was your only reference to the afterlife?” My companion teases, amused.

“Death was never a subject of intense interest for me.  Why spend time considering something beyond your control?”

“Surely, you gave it some thought?  I’ve seen the evidence.”

“Yes,” I admit.  Why lie?  “But, I didn’t spend my whole life worrying about it.  Searching for that elusive Fountain of Youth out of fear of dying.”

“You wanted the answers,” He says slowly, understanding.  “You actually looked forward to coming here and getting them.”

I smile over, a glint of russet hair in my peripheral and I feel my inner light shirk away.  The sorrow coming forth a little stronger.  My mind turns toward abandoned Siberia, again.  It’s still tethered to me, but is so distant now, we can no longer see it.  I doubt I’ll ever see it again.

“Haven’t you ever feared judgment?  Ma’at’s Scales?  Perdition?” He pressed.

“Absolutely,” I reply.  “But, at its worst, hell belongs to a theory I never really believed in.  Even when my grandmother was hauling me to church every Sunday and reading me passages from the bible, I could only ever feel or grasp certain teachings of it.  Certain ideals that made sense.  And, as much as I love the mythologies of all the ancient cultures, it’s evident that most of their theories or stories were designed to explain natural occurrences they couldn’t otherwise explain.  Things that had already been scientifically discovered and proven before I was even old enough to read.”

“Why at its worst?” My companion asks, letting the rest fall by the wayside for now.

“Fire and brimstone?  Chained to the depths of hell for all eternity?  Tortured and tormented in unspeakable agony due to your sins?” I scoff.  “Sorry, not buying it.  There has to be a chance for growth.  We have to be able to move passed our mistakes, to learn in the next life what we failed to learn in the last, so that we can climb that spiritual ladder.”

“Your Siberia exists,” My companion points out.

“Yes, but only for me,” I say, my voice trailing off as the intent grips me.  His purpose all along.  “That’s why you took me there.”

“Guided is a more appropriate term,” He smiles.  “You already recognized that one’s introduction into the afterlife is personalized by their death, so, can you imagine what it would have been like had you spent your last life murdering innocent people?”

Exhaling, eyes widening, I look out at the others milling about.  “Hell.  It would be your own personal hell.”

“Mm,” He nods.  “Though, you’re right about moving passed it.  Learning from it.  So, in that respect, I think it would be more fitting to call it a personal Purgatory.”

Chapter VIII: A Kind of Recovery

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“Recycling of Infinite Souls”
by Snow Valkyrie

“Can you see more clearly now, how easily our existence could have been the labor of another’s imaginings?” My companion asks, after an endless stretch of silent introspection.

We had left my personal Siberia long ago; the canvas soaking up my memories with every step just like before.  It was too absorbent to keep them from slipping away and leaving the stark emptiness behind.

“It wasn’t labor,” I counter.  “It was madness.”

“It’s still in you,” He reveals, startling me enough to pause.  “Past, present and future.  There is a part of you that still hasn’t created it.  A part of you that has yet to put the words to paper, the brush to canvas and that part still has the essence, the paint, the ink living inside of her.  That is why you feel it so strongly.”

“Then why nothing else?” I ask, feeling an uncertainty I hadn’t arrived with.  “As we walk, all of these things appear, but they’re faint.  Distant and weak.”

“Created with purpose,” He repeats, perhaps.  The doubt encircles.

“If your theory stands true, we are nothing more than the result of imaginings so terrifying, to exist this strongly for this long, it had to have killed whoever created us,” I declare, red faced with the agony of it.

“Love is far more powerful than fear,” My companion calmly dissents.  “Surely you cannot deny that you loved that creation.  Perhaps, even more so than others, because it was so terrifying, dark and real.  Do parents not still love their wrongful children?  Do they not ache for them, worry for them and carry the initial joy of them around inside of their hearts for all time?  It is a labor.  Can you say it’s not like giving birth?”

“No,” I whisper, swallowing hard.

The negative connotations I’d applied to my own reasoning began to wash away.  I Understood then, that the misery had been initiated by my own interpretations, and not anything my companion had implied.  This release of sorts, this mending occurs like a soothing salve covering the wounds in my soul, the anguish and fear slowly ebbing with the silent tears that flow down my face.  Here in this place In Between, there is no blockage inside of me that tries to fight these random displays of emotion, the way it had in life.  It’s a matter without thought or embarrassment.  Without shame or disdain.

“You’re absolutely right. It is precisely like giving birth,” I exhale.

“You no longer misunderstand,” He nods.  “Whether designed by a god, or some other omnipotent presence, our spirits are subject to the same cycle as all natural things.  Think of it as a giant reservoir.  We all flow from a main source, and come back, and so on and so forth.  There is always the same amount of energy, the same cycles.  For every one of us who returns, new ones flow out.  Do you see?”

I look over at him, seeing on his partial profile, the bottom portion of his jaw.  The rest is blurred, giving only an impression of features.  I find that I can’t look any more than that.  I have yet to be able to bring myself to look upon him fully all this while.

“Are you… something divine?” I ask hesitantly.

“You mean like an angel?” He laughs.

“Never mind,” I flush, looking straight ahead.

A long silence seems to stretch between us, and I can feel something sorrowful attempting to seep in.

“You create your own limitations here,” He says quietly.  “As always, only you can make them go away.”