This contemplative piece by senior Owen Connell explores life beyond death, and the meaning of our own mortality. With eerie and surreal imagery, this story evokes many emotions and deep questions. Read on if you’re looking for great story to ponder on an October afternoon!
The Man and The Figure
The man was lying on the bed, gasping for air like a fish freshly plucked from a murky lake. Surrounding him were people, all of different nationalities, ages, races, genders and non genders, and economic standings. The man that lay before them had been a hero and companion to them, someone they had looked up to. Someone they had admired.
But none could see the other figure, its form twisting endlessly like a willow tree in the wind.
None except the man on the bed.
The Figure stood at the foot of the bed, its body cloaked in shadow and nothingness. Darkness was its domain, and it refused to remove itself from the comfort and privacy of it.
The man was a philatnthropist, a pioneer of civil rights. He had marched against tyrany in the rallies for human rights, religious freedom, and scientific progress. He had been married to the man of his dreams, an old high school fling, for the past 70 years. They had adopted three beautiful children from across the globe, and he was more than happy to call them his family.
Yet, none of this lifetime of accomplishment, of love and loss, of hatred and turmoil, mattered in this moment.
All that mattered to the man was the mysterious ethereal Figure at the foot of his bed.
The man breathed deeply, and his senses felt clearer then they ever had before. He witnessed colors he never imagined were possible. He experienced scents that reminded him of long lost days of childhood and innocence. The thick and scratchy cotton of his hospital bedspread felt as smooth and silky as the wings of a butterfly.
All at once, these new senses exploded throughout his mind, and then vanished.
He exhaled, his breath and soul leaving the fleshy vessel they had once inhabited.
The man rose, his incorporeal spirit hovering over the body he’d never thought to call a home.
The Figure stepped forward and extended a part of itself, something too formless to be called a hand, yet not alien enough to not be thought of as some sort of limb.
“Who is that down there?” The man asked the Figure. Despite the Figure’s lack of a solid face, the man did not feel fear or dread.
“Who do you think?” The Figure responded. Its voice was airy yet strong, sounding as if three separate people were talking from inside a recently punctured tire.
“Do you recall your name?”
The man thought for a second.
“I can’t, actually.” The man raised an eyebrow, a gesture that would normally have conveyed confusion during his time among the living but now amounted to as much meaning as a bag of sand has in the middle of the desert.
“Should I be worried about that?”
“That’s up to you,” responded the Figure. “None of what you once were matters now. What matters now is our destination.”
The Figure molded itself around the man’s palm, its eldritch fingers giving no warmth or texture.
“Where are we going?” asked the man.
The Figure pulled the man, and suddenly they were in an iridescent tunnel. Direction and speed mattered not to them as color and tessellations passed by faster than any could register they even existed.
They arrived at a glowing orb, resembling a garishly painted easter egg. Liquid seemed to pull itself from the shape only to immediately be pulled back like an elastic band. Faces and limbs could occasionally be seen along the surface of the egg, their bodies contorted into expressions of agony and sorrow.
The Figure and the man stood before this egg in an endless void; no landmark could be seen for miles around them, and it was doubtful that there existed any even beyond that.
“What is this thing?” asked the man.
“Observe,” said the Figure.
The two watched the shape, and eventually it did change. As the liquid and the faces continued to pull it, they came into conflict with the retracting of the egg. With each motion the objects would pull just a bit farther while the egg would take just a slightly longer amount of time to push them back into itself. Eventually the liquid and faces won this endless struggle and the egg shattered, an explosion of color and dust hitting the Figure and the man at full force.
All around them dust danced, swirling dervishes growing in size until they formed the familiar shapes of galaxies and planets.
“What was that?” asked the man.
“What do you think it was?” the Figure asked back.
The man was stumped.
“What do you mean ‘What do you think it was?’” the man shouted back, mockery filling his voice. “I asked you first, and you respond to my question with an identical question! Heavens, this is the second most painful experience I’ve had to deal with, and that’s only because I had terminal cance-.”
The man stopped short.
“Oh my god. I had terminal cancer. My liver, it-it.”
The man turned to the Figure.
“I’m dead aren’t I?!”
“And you…you…you are death!” the man said, spite flicking off his incorporeal tongue like saliva. “You’re the bloody grim reaper!”
“I am many things.” The Figure’s voice was at once angry and soothing. “I am entropy, and the end, yet I am also a chance for new beginnings and forgiveness. I have gone by many names, Yahweh, Lucifer, Zeus, Saturn, Hel, Susano’oh, Fenrir, Lavos, all many names that refer to a single thing: the Truth.”
“And…and what is that truth?”
“Tell me, child, who are you?”
The Figure changed was shifting wildly. A face, one bearing a thick, broom like moustache and sad brown eyes like a cow emerged from its inky depths.
“That’s me, isn’t it?” The man asked.
The Figure did not respond.
“I remember now, I think. My name… my name is Lorne Tomin. I was born on September 22nd, 1989 in Devonshire, England. My mother was a carpenter and my father was a cheese maker. We moved to America when I was but a boy, something about the damn labor party. I studied literature throughout my youth. Oscar Wilde, he was my favorite. It was The Portrait of Dorian Grey, that made me realize it. Who I truly was. Not everyone accepted it; I would be beaten in the streets daily. But I wouldn’t be broken. No, I would use all that pain all that turmoil to light the spark that was my soul.”
The man, whose name may or may not have been Lorne, thought for a second, studying the Figure.
“Is that correct?”
The Figure didn’t respond but merely shifted its form once again, this time into what resembled an egg crafted from molten rubber and saccharine paint.
“That, was that the beginning of the universe?”
The man looked around, the cosmos continuing to swirl and expand around them.
“So where was God then? Or Allah? Or Vishnu, or any of the other deities that are supposed to give us meaning? Where were they?”
The Figure said nothing, instead resuming its formless black body.
“They’re not real, are they? So is there any meaning to life then?”
The Figure didn’t respond.
“Lorne Tomin,” asked the Figure after some time “Do you remember your deeds?”
“MY deeds?” asked the man.
“What did you do and fill your life with?” asked the Figure once again
Lorne Tomin thought.
“I… I think I was a leader. A leader for many who felt like their lives had no direction and weren’t even blips on the radars of those they felt were above them. I was… a husband. My husband, Richard Gear, I’d known him since soccer practice when I was eight. He was amazing, so kind, so caring, his legs were firm like crafted bronze and he played like an eagle soars. I was… a father too. My children, they had been orphaned during the Third Great War. But they were mine and Richard’s, we loved them with all our hearts, and they went on to do such great things. Marian went on to become a sculptor, Kevan is currently a state senator, while Mildred…Mildred…she…she became a sommelier.”
“And would you say there was meaning in those actions?”
“Yes. Yes, there definitely was,” responded Lorne.
“So, would you say there was meaning in your life, then? Regardless of whether or not there was the presence or lack of one from a God during that time?” The Figure asked, its voice containing the slightest tinge of curiosity.
Lorne thought for the longest time.
“Good,” the Figure said, a smile seeming to emanate from its presence.
Lorne felt lighter, his body was beginning to crack, light pouring through his being.
“Figure! Please! What’s happening?!”
“Do not worry, Lorne. There is no need for panic. There is no pain, merely the next step. You have solved the puzzle, one that has stumped many like you for millennia as to what is the true meaning of life.”
“What is it?! What is the mea-” The word were cut short, unable to come out of Lorne’s mouth fast enough. His body had glowed brighter than the whitest dwarf star before it exploded into luminescent ash.
The Figure was alone. The darkness peeled apart and out stretched a decaying, skeletal hand. Dust drifted through its torn fingers, scattering into the cosmos and merging with the infant galaxies.
“Whatever you choose it to be,” the Figure spoke to the cosmos.