Um, I guess I should put up a warning since this revolves around death… I wouldn’t say it’s emotional but I know some people have difficulty with it so just thought I’d say it.
It had been many years. Many decades. Or maybe just many minutes? It was hard to tell in this place. Time didn’t seem to feel to work right.
He had spent all this time, or so little time, staring at the wall. There were lines on the wall, unless they squiggles. He knew if he stared at them long enough it would make sense to him–even though he had no idea whether he was trying to look at words or a picture.
He had been alone all this time, standing here, staring at the wall. Unless it had just been a few minutes. He wasn’t sure, even though he did know how long it had passed out there. He knew a lot of things. Too much.
The split second he no longer alone, he knew it. He felt it. Plus the lines seemed to sharpen, like they were coming into focus. But still not clear enough–far from being clear enough. The answer was still a long ways off. But he was no longer alone.
Jacob turned to face his son, not surprised to see him at the age he was. He had been this age for all this time–or was it not long at all? Had he died just an hour ago? Time out there had passed many, many years. He knew Calcifer had died an old man in his bed.
Calcifer did not know this. He stared at his father–long dead to him–and then frowned. “Hello Dad. Is this a dream?”
Jacob wanted to lie to him, but he knew it wouldn’t be long before Calcifer realized the truth. Better not to lie. “No. It’s not a dream. You’ve died. Painlessly, quick. That, I am grateful for. That you weren’t in pain. But I’m sorry…”
Calcifer stared. “That–that’s a lie. This is a dream!” he snapped, though he felt it to be true. Deep down, he knew when his father said it, that it was the truth. “Ridiculous! You expect me to believe this is Heaven? Or Hell? Huh?!”
Jacob smiled at once, hearing his son’s stubborn streak coming out at once as if nothing had changed. “No, this place is different. This is a different afterlife.” He spread his hands as if to show him, but all there was to show was an empty room with a few very distant, very blurry lines on one wall.
“What sort of afterlife?” Calcifer asked, suddenly too weary to argue. He felt something, and he didn’t like it. “I don’t want a different afterlife–how does that even make sense? Why are we the only two here?”
“Please just relax,” Jacob urged. “I know it’s difficult to understand. I don’t quite understand it myself. I mean… I think I do. Maybe I don’t.” He turned back to face the wall with the lines. “I almost do…”
Calcifer rubbed his temples. “So it’s just you and me, in this room, for eternity?”
Jacob laughed, the sound echoing off the walls. “No. Not for eternity. For not that long. Or maybe it will be eternity. Time is difficult here. But it’s not just here. We have the other afterlife, too. It’s like we’re split in half and if you just relax for a moment you can see the other side. I can… but I prefer staying here.”
Calcifer did close his eyes and he could feel it. A field. He was in a meadow, under a blue sky, Penny close in his arms. He could feel her solid in his arms, her eyes shining as she smiled up at him. “Is it real?” he whispered, looking back at his father. “Or is this real?”
“They both are,” Jacob answered.
“I can see hear, hear her, feel her warm skin…” Calcifer backed away from his father. “How is it? This is–a dream… or… how can I feel her? She…” He didn’t want it to be true but he knew. Deep down, like being here, he knew. “Even if I’m here, she’s just a dream. Isn’t she? Dad? Isn’t she?”
Jacob looked at Calcifer with sorrow in his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said, wishing he could lie. But like everything else that was to happen, Calcifer would discover the truth.
Calcifer buried his face in his hands, his shoulders shaking as he cried. “No! It’s not true! She can’t be dead!” Except he did know it was true. “She deserved a longer life…”
“You were her life, Calcifer,” Jacob said, finally moving a bit closer to his son. “Just as she was yours.”
Calcifer looked up, swaying a bit. “How did you know about her? You died before I–but you look so young,” he realized then he looked at his hands in wonderment. “I’m young. She’s young, with my other self.”
“Young, healthy, happy,” Jacob said with a smile. “As am I. No pain.” He touched his midriff and sighed. “No pain.” He turned again to face the wall. “Can you see it?”
“All I see are wobbly lines,” replied Calcifer, stepping over to Jacob. “Dad, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t.” Jacob smiled, though he did not look away from the wall. “I know how you feel. I’m sorry you went through what you did.” Finally he turned his head, to meet Calcifer’s gaze. “But never apologize, because you were worth it.”
It hit Calcifer all of a sudden. As if Jacob had opened up and Calcifer could see what was going on inside his mind and heart. Calcifer then thought of his children and grandchildren. Any pain he went through, he knew he’d do it again for them and for Penny. The pain Jacob had gone through, Calcifer knew it was worth it to him.
“Why are we here?” Calcifer whispered. “You and me? Just the two of us?”
“It won’t be just the two of us for long,” Jacob assured him then he paused, tapping his chin. “Or maybe it will be a very long time. You’ll soon realize that time acts strange here. Sometimes it feels like moments ago that I had you, sometimes it feels like moments since my death. Sometimes it feels like centuries. You’ll feel it soon. But you don’t see anything?” He waved his hand at the wall.
Calcifer shook his head. “No, just lines. Or squiggles. They keep changing. What do we do? This is hell, then, to spend eternity in a room with nothing.” He shivered, feeling a strange sensation in his stomach. It had already been an eternity since he stepped into the room. Hadn’t he been standing here, talking to his father for at least ten years now?
“You’re not completely here,” Jacob pointed out. “Go, relax, concentrate on the other place. Spend time with Penny. Don’t worry if anyone else shows up, you’ll be able to tell who’s real and who’s not.” Then Jacob laughed. “I guess I should say, who is dead and who is not. I sometimes felt you there, but it was a shadow of you. I sometimes had Elouia there, but she was real.”
Calcifer frowned. “What are you going to do? Spend eternity by yourself? Why aren’t you in the other place?”
“I am there, but only barely,” Jacob sighed. “I’ve stopped concentrating on it a thousand years ago. Or yesterday. This is more urgent.” He sat down on the floor, staring at the wall. Calcifer looked too but he could see only lines. Wobbly, indistinct lines that could be anything. A picture of a horse, or words of a poem.
“What is it?” Calcifer asked, sitting down next to his father.
“The answer to what?”
Jacob smiled, resting his chin on his hand. “Precisely. Go spend time with Penny. I won’t be alone with you here, even if you’re not completely here. And we won’t be alone much longer.”
Calcifer fixed his gaze on the wall and it was there: the wall, the lines, as he ran through the meadow with Penny, sometimes just the two of them but sometimes with the kids and grandkids at varying ages, all pale shadows as Jacob said. Not dead, but memories.
The bright sun shone down on them, warming their bodies, lighting their paths. Sometimes it was cloudy; sometimes it snowed and they threw snowballs at each other and made snow angels; sometimes it rained, and they would dance, laughing, loving.
But the wall and the lines were always there. Waiting.