“Fangs and skulls and burning eyes? That’s never going to work. Kali is not a demon and doesn’t frighten me, so stop acting stupid,” I say. How do I know Kali? That’s a puzzle. And another thing: is this how I choose to speak to a demon? I surprise even me. But, I suppose, if I’m dead what is there to lose?
The monster, she, it, whatever, shrinks from a lurid crimson giant to an enchanting but vague human. “Fair enough, I’ll use my normal shape.”
“You don’t have one.” I keep my tone slightly superior. It seems to be a habit. Too many mysteries; I have no conscious memory and no idea who, what or where I am. The surrounding dark void doesn’t help. I need memories to sort things out.
The apparition treats me to changes of form so fast I can’t follow. I do recognise a pink and yellow elephant toy, a breaking boulder, a living or animated tuba but little else, the figures passing so rapidly. Each makes a sound and between them they create coherent human speech, “Do you prefer this?”
It continues flickering through random shapes despite my reply. “Due to your unique abilities you have been specially selected…”
“No I haven’t. Get to the point.”
“The point is I will give you a choice.”
I hiss, “Oh the drama, oh the suspense. On with it.”
It changes to the form of an echidna, a metallic glittering half-female and half-serpent. The stench is more revolting than anything I’ve ever experienced. My guts are horsewhips, coiling and thrashing into slippery knots. The creature continues, “Do you know only humans have choice? Angels and demons do not.”
“Really? Someone commands you to perform like something from a circus? I think you may be talking nonsense.”
“It will be your last choice – my gift to you.”
“How long are you going to keep this drivel going?”
The monster sweats a noxious fluid in viscous blobs and strands which spread into the void. “You are standing on an ice sheet. It’s melting and you will plummet down and down … and down. Above you is a rope, a rope so strong it will stop you falling into the chasm below.”
“Well, isn’t that lovely.”
“The chasm into which the damned fall and suffer eternal tortures. They have no choice but to endure agonies, terrors, humiliations, labours and failures beyond your imagination. The torments are continually refined and made more cruel. There is no respite – but the damned always torture themselves with hope.”
“I don’t know, maybe I’ll take up surfing instead.”
“Or…” she pauses as if relishing the moment, “you can grab the rope above you.”
“Oh goody, perhaps I’ll spend my time learning to swing.”
“At which point someone of your talents will be selected to ascend as a demon. From the person you made yourself will develop the skills of inflicting the most elaborate and merciless suffering. All the knowledge you have acquired will be put to good use and you can relish your achievements and be proud. Think how, after a life such as you’ve had, brilliant you will be. Well, of course you can’t begin to imagine how exquisitely refined your cruelty can become over eternity. You have infinite potential.”
“Rubbish. I think I’m a very ordinary person in that respect. There’s nothing particularly cruel about me.”
“Oh really? Try to imagine how many average people have left others to suffer alone or shot, burned and bombed their own kind because they didn’t care or thought they had no…” it pauses for effect, “choice. Now you’ll learn what it’s actually like to have no … choice.” The monster falls silent, watching.
Looking down I see wet ice reflecting a dull light of yellows, purples and greens coming from somewhere – or nowhere. Through it falling drips are visible. A crack forms, splintering shards which drop, turning end over end, leaving jagged holes.
A momentary vision of ice … a memory: no – it’s gone.
Whatever I’m talking to changes into a yellow blob, twisting, sprouting random eyes and mouths – hundreds of them. These ragged holes and writhing tongues chant, “Oh … oh … I love these precious moments!”
I say, “This is my choice is it: to torture or be tortured? I have only seconds and must live with my decision for eternity?”
The reply is a screech mingled with mirth, “And always regret it. That’s why this is called Hell.”
So I’ll learn how cruel others … or I can be? No … no … no…
Another half-memory too fleeting to identify strikes me. Something about questioning things … and belief? What am I? … certainly not someone to be bossed around by… Hell, that was the word.
“You just blew it,” I say. “Hell is somebody else’s idea, not mine, a construct to cause fear in uneducated people. It kept the senior priests in comfy jobs – and in turn they were tolerated by the ruling class if they kept the population under control.” I look at the apparition. “Guilt, shame and fear of them: what a wonderful basis for a civilisation! You … you are a phantasm: I’m imagining you. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction.”
Shit, that was close – by giving me a choice within something she, it, almost distracted me from the rest of everything … and trapped me.
The ice, void and demon fade and I’m in nothing, or everything, floating … all by myself.
What am I? I don’t know but I’m alone … alone … unless I imagine ghosts and demons … and angels? Demons and angels without choice? Where did I read that? Why no choice? Oh … I only imagine them: that’s why.
So … how far have I got? I can imagine things but remain alone if I control them – they’re just toys and puppets … slaves to my will.
I don’t want to be alone just now. I don’t want to spend a forever in this spaceless placeless place. I don’t even have time unless I imagine a past, present and future. I can recall previous thoughts … but did I just create fake memories?
This is insanity, just dreaming up anything I want and yet being so alone. I’m a lonely mad god.
Did I just think ‘anything I want’?
What if I replace this eternity with now and space with place … and imaginary things like me and … and forget I imagined them? Then they would have power over me? Yes, they would have to.
I have to make myself ignorant of all this, forget what I am. That’s achievable – I’ve done it before! I remember now. It’s easy, forget everything and appear with a blank mind somewhere I’ve created – like being born.
That was it: I was a human. That’s where all that religious knowledge came from. I was studying it or teaching it somewhere … or something. But…
My thoughts swirl and evaporate forming a mist which hardens into surfaces, movement, smells and sounds…
Someone says, “Doctor Soames, can you hear me yet? We have to turn you over so you don’t get bedsores. Do you know where you are? You’re in hospital after a motorcycle accident. You’re OK, just a knock on the head and two minor fractures already treated in surgery. You’ll be fine.”
I’m weak, limp and probably drugged with powerful analgesia. That accounts for the weird dreams and illusions.
Agony lances like bolts of lightning as I’m turned.
I have no power to stop them moving me.
©Gary Bonn, 2020