That is why we humans, in our naive misunderstanding of the universal order, are gripped by the mortal fear of death. We think it the final frontier – the greatest imaginable unknown from whose penumbral shores no traveler may return. And so we cling desperately onto even the most dreary and anguished lives, suffering any known evil over our release into the beyond.
But death is not to be feared, because death is very well understood. We have witnessed it, caused it, measured and recorded it to the last dying spasm of neuronal flickering. Even as I lay dying, it seemed silly to me that I should be afraid of the emptiness which reason promised to expect.
While I was alive I wouldn’t experience death, so there was no reason to be afraid now. When I was dead, I wouldn’t be capable of experiencing anything, so fear still had no cause. That thought brought me great comfort as I felt the last erratic struggle from my heart against the inevitable conclusion I approached. It wasn’t until I was finally drifting off to sleep that a final intrusive doubt bubbled in my brain:
What if it isn’t death which is to be feared? What if it is what lies beyond?
And so troubled did I slip beyond mortal understanding, stepping into a world as far forsaken by reason as I was now from life. I was still in the hospital room, but the bustle of nurses and the beeping machines lost their opacity as though I was mired in swiftly descending dusk. It seemed as though every sound was an echo of what it once was; every sight a reflection. With each passing moment, the world was becoming less real…
But all that sight and sound – all that being – it wasn’t simply disappearing. It was transforming into a figure beside me. The less real my room became, the more real the figure was, until presently it existed in such sharp actuality that nothing beside it seemed real at all.
His cloak was black. Not the color black, but its essence. It was as though seeing a tiger after a lifetime of looking at a child’s crude drawing and thinking that’s all a tiger was. Reality flowed around his scythe like a brush through water colors, and I could see each elementary particle and time itself sunder across its blade.
Surely this, I thought. This is why we were taught without words to fear death. I clutched at my hospital blanket to cower from the intensity of the Reaper’s presence, but the once soft cotton now flowed like translucent mist through my hands. I knew in that moment that nothing could hide me from the specter’s grasp, for he was the only real thing in this world.
They weren’t words. My head ached from the strain of this knowledge as my lateness was burned into my awareness, imparted like an inescapable law of physics as unequivocal as gravity.
We don’t have time for the usual speech. Hurry now.
I felt myself swept up around him like dirt in a hurricane. Before I knew what was happening, we were outside the hospital, moving at such a frenzied pace that the world around me blurred into a dizzying tunnel of flashing light.
If you’re lucky, IT will have gotten bored of waiting for you.
I had too many questions, all fighting for attention in the forefront of my brain without any making their way out.
You’re quiet. I admire that. Usually people ask too much.
“What’s the point?” I asked. My voice felt flat and dead compared to his overwhelming substance. “How can I try to comprehend something so beyond mortal knowledge?”
You can’t. But it’s still human nature to ask.
We weren’t slowing. If anything, our pace was increasing. I wasn’t running, or flying, or anything of that nature. It was more like the rest of the world was moving around us while we stood still. A vague darkness and a heavy damp smell made me guess that we’d gone underground, but I couldn’t say for sure.
“One question then,” I asked. “What else is here besides you?”
And that is why questions are pointless. Death is not a place, or a person. It’s all there is.
Troubling thought, but made more so by the growing howl which began reverberating the rocks around me. We still seemed to be descending into the Earth, and the air was growing warmer and denser now. The sound continued to mount as though the world itself was suffering.
“Then what is IT?”
What I’m here to protect you from.
The rocks split from a flash of his scythe, and the ground opened further into a sprawling cavern dominated by a subterranean lake.
“But I thought you said you were all there is.”
No, I said Death was all there is.
We weren’t moving any longer. Light glinted off the scythe from some unseen source and streamed into the lake like a tributary. Once inside, the light didn’t reflect or dissipate, but swirled and danced like luminescent oil.
“I thought you were Death.”
Death is not a person.
The light was taking a life of its own inside the water. The still surface began to churn with the enigmatic energy. It took my scattered mind a long while to realize that I was the energy flowing into the lake. I still felt tangled up with the figure, but we now existed as a beam of light boiling into the water.
I knew I wouldn’t understand, but that didn’t stop me from feeling frustrated. If Death is all there is, then what is IT? What was waiting for me? The water pressed in around me and I couldn’t speak, although I could still draw breath somehow.
IT is here.
Something was in the water around me. Hands grabbed me by the legs and began dragging me downward. I was amazed to even discover I had limbs again. They felt so alien to me that it was almost as though this body was not my own. Light flashed from the scythe – then again. The hands let go, and the howling rose once more. The Reaper was fighting something, although I couldn’t make any sense of the battle except for the madness of thrashing water.
The howling Earth reached its crescendo, and the screams made the water around me convulse and contract like living fluid. Had the Reaper cut it? Was I safe? I began to explore my new body in the water, but just when I thought I was beginning to gain control the hands clutched me once more. I lurched downward, struggling in vain against their implacable grip.
“What is here?” I tried to shout against the suffocating liquid. “What is happening?”
But I couldn’t sense the Reaper’s presence any longer. The heat was unbearable, but the cold depths the hands were dragging me toward was even worse. I became aware of a blinding light at the bottom of the lake, and though I struggled, the hands dragged me inexorably onward.
I’m sorry. I couldn’t fight IT off. It seemed to be coming from so far away now. We will try again next time.
The pressure – the heat – the noise – the hands dragging me into the blinding light. I closed my eyes and screamed. I was free from the water now, but I just kept screaming. I couldn’t bear to look at IT – whatever had stolen me. Whatever was Death but wasn’t – whatever even the Reaper could not defeat.
Then words spoke. Real, human words from a real human mouth. My senses were so distraught that I couldn’t make sense of them, but I’m guessing they were something like:
“Congratulations! He’s a healthy baby boy.”
Most people can’t remember the day they die, or the day they were born. I happen to remember both, and I know that they are the same.