Confused by a new environment, Rachel investigates her unusual situation.
A second before Rachel Grant found herself standing alone on a cool, shady mountain side in an evergreen forest; she’d been sweating in a crowd of office workers on a downtown Chicago street corner. All of them eager to get somewhere after work on this hot, humid summer evening. One second they were waiting for the traffic signal to show the “walk” light, the next she was here, wherever here was.
Oh, no, Rachel thought in alarm, where is my roller bag? Looking frantically around, she didn’t see it. It contained her recent architectural updates which were due tomorrow. Stop panicking, she told herself. Focus! It’s got to be here.
Pivoting slowly around, she carefully scanned the mountain side. Pine boughs danced to the music of a gentle breeze. Bright shafts of sunlight flickered. On a carpet of bronze tree needles, glowing spots of sunlight swirled. The fallen needles mulched the forest floor so there was little undergrowth to hide her bag. With dismay Rachel concluded her laptop bag was obviously not here.
Where was her pant suit jacket? Due to the August heat, she’d draped it over her bare arm. It was missing too. Looking down, she only wore the sleeveless, shiny, crème colored blouse and beige slacks she’d put on this morning - and her sneakers. As usual when leaving work, she’d stowed her suit matching beige shoes in the missing roller bag.
Movement three hundred feet up the trail caught her attention. She hadn’t realized she was standing on a dirt hiking path. A lone figure in a 1776 uniform hurried towards her. Rachel waved and called out in a friendly voice, “Hello, can you help me?” As he got closer, she could tell he was frowning. Actually, he was glaring. As he drew closer, his pace increased. At 30 feet, he charged her.
“Hors de mon chemin y anglais stupide, “he said, and shoved her hard.
Tumbling backwards, she landed first on her rear-end and then hit her head. The soft mat of needles lessened the impact and also caused her to skid several feet down the mountain side.
What the heck? Rachel thought. She’d recognized the little creep immediately. Napoleon Bonaparte had rudely shoved her out of his way. She couldn’t speak French, but it sure sounded like he’d called her stupid too.
Still lying on her back, she remembered something similar happening to her in Chicago. Someone had pushed her down onto the hot asphalt of the street. No, that wasn’t right. Something big had slammed into her. She remembered flying through the air, rolling, and sliding to a stop.
Then she was here. Had she died? Was she in Heaven? Rolling over, and heaving herself to her feet, Rachel mentally surveyed herself for pain. Nothing hurt. Yup, she was in Heaven. But if that were true, why was Napoleon such a jerk? Shouldn’t he be all peaceful and friendly?
Back in the direction his imperial rudeness had come from, she heard faint cheering. It sounded like a distant sports stadium. Despite his grumpiness’ behavior, a lot of people seemed delighted with their afterlife.
A short hike up to the trail’s crest, presented Rachel with a clear view into the next valley. Below like an enormous bathtub was an amphitheater. It fit the entire valley floor and sides. Tiers of stone seats ascended half way up the steep valley.
Several million singers sang rock-in-roll along with a gyrating, sparkling man on the stage. “Viva Las Vegas…”
It couldn’t be, Rachel thought in wonderment. Her earliest memory was Grandma May holding her, dancing and whirling around Grandma and Grandpa’s farmhouse living room to Elvis’ songs on the phonograph.
Plunging down the path through obscuring aspen trees, her ears recognized many of the old marvelous songs: “Jailhouse Rock”, “Blue Suede Shoes”, and “Nothing but a Hound Dog.”
Eventually, she popped abruptly from the woodlands into the top rows of stone seats. Every seat seemed occupied by a singing fan. Down on the level paving stone floor thousands of people danced. Elvis sparkled on the amphitheater’s stage. She had died and gone to Heaven!
Rachel laughed. This was crazy. Elvis was here? Crazy or not, the spectators’ joy infected her. At the top of her lungs, she sang. After uncountable hours passed; she found the will to pull back from the euphoria. Amazing, she thought, I’m not hungry or tired. But I am ready for something different. The amphitheater appeared to have exits like the Chicago Cub’s ballpark. Weaving through the aisle dancers she made her way toward the nearest one.
On her way Rachel grinned to see a young woman right in front of her wearing a German WWI nurse’s uniform cheering the conclusion of “All Shook Up“. While wondering how she knew the uniform was from WW1, the nurse blinked out. A startled looking pot-bellied, old man in swimming trunks replaced her. What the heck? Rachel thought.
Down two stone seat rows and a bit to the right something similar happened. To her lower left twenty rows down, she saw the replacement again. Scanning the entire throng from her high vantage point, the entire gathering was twinkling.
Why were people still singing? Why weren’t they screaming in terror? A stampede should be rushing to the exits; like she was. People in front of her were moving too slow! She pushed several out of her way earning shouts of anger from her victims. Was this why Napoleon had pushed her out of his way? Once outside of the amphitheater, she was able to run.
Rachel ran for miles without tiring or being winded. Her panic drove her on. She raced through a patchwork of various landscapes and assemblies. Some were open tundra; some were trails through swamps. In one she saw an enormous group of people creating paintings. In another, people were listening to a lecture. In every place, people were blinking out.
How could this be Heaven if people vanished? She must be in Hell. After all, she was in torment wasn’t she? Where did the people go when they disappeared? Did they stop existing? Did they teleport to another location here? The people replacing the vanished were newly deceased like her weren’t they? Had she replaced someone out in the forest? Maybe, maybe not.
“Hello,” a thin man shouted to her from a wooden bench. Rachel didn’t slow down or answer him. She continued running along a sandy beach. A few minutes later the man ran up behind her and matched her pace. “Do you like philosophy?”
Who was this fruit basket? She thought, and increased her speed.
“You know you can’t out run me, right? Neither one of us will tire.” They continued running in silence. “I think I’ll run beside you until you talk to me.”
“Fine,” Rachel said turning her head to glare at him, “talk.”
“I can tell by your clothes and hair that you’re new here,” he said.
“I can tell by your clothes and hair that you’re a slob.”
He barked a laugh. In an instant, he was running next to her wearing a toga.
Jogging back to her, he smiled, “Well, that stopped you.”
“How did you do that?”
In the next second, he was wearing a tuxedo.
“Are you an angel or something?” Rachel asked.
“Oh, my, no. I’m Archimedes,” he said holding his right hand to his puffed out chest. He was wearing his toga again.
“Is this Heaven or Hell?” she asked.
“We don’t think it is either place,” he said.
Archimedes made a hand gesture of invitation. Beneath a grove of palm trees, several stone ottomans sat in the shade. “Let’s relax and watch the sea while I tell you what we know and speculate.”
Once seated he began. “We think this place is a waiting room for the dead.”
Rachel interrupted him, “who’s we?”
“Philosophers like Aristotle and Socrates. Scientists like De Vinci, Einstein, and Hawking. The famous are all here. That’s a clue by the way. “
“If you say so,” Rachel said. “Please continue.”
“Let’s consider who is here and who is not. There is no one prior to 5000 years ago. The oldest person is Hammurabi. After that we have a few more such as Hatshepsut, Buddha, and Confucius. As the years passed, we received increasing numbers of famous residents. That’s another clue.”
“You are suggesting only famous people are here? I’m not famous,” said Rachel.
“I’ll get to that. But, yes, only famous people from history are here.”
“And these famous people never vanish?” she asked.
“There have been a few, but not for a long time.” Archimedes put his elbows on his knees. “The last group of people here are not famous. Like you. These are the ones rapidly disappearing. They seem to hang around for a little less than 200 years. The majority are here for less than a hundred years. That’s key, we think.”
Archimedes sat up straight and looked directly into Rachel’s face. “You have time. More time than you had on Earth. Do you understand?”
“Not really.” After a pause, she asked, “Since you geniuses have been pondering this for a while, can you just get to the point?”
Archimedes blushed and said, “Da Vinci came up with the original hypothesis. Like I said, we’re in a waiting room.” The rest of his statement came in a rush, “We are here until the living forget us.”
Rachel was stunned. It was crazy. Why would being remembered matter after we die? Who set this stupid process up? What would they gain? In her career as an architect, she was respected, but she’d never be in a textbook now. Hopes for such fame died when she did. All she could hope for would be 200 more years - with perfect health.
Rachel asked, “If no one knows where people who vanish go, do you have a theory?
Excitement brightened his face. “I think it is a new beginning. You get to start over. Maybe you will be a newborn baby. No regrets. No disappointments. Our futures will be pure potential.”
“It’s a sweet idea, but why couldn’t it be a blink to oblivion.”
“That could have happened when you died,” said Archimedes. “But you didn’t wink out, did you? You came here to Limbo.”
“Yes, but why does our existence here depend on the living remembering us? Rachel asked.
“Unknown,” Archimedes shrugged.
They watched the surf for a while.
Rachel said, “I think you’re being collected.”
Archimedes looked skeptical. "Collected?"
Rachel continued, “People like you, who are being studied in universities and written into textbooks will be considered by space aliens as the very best the human race has to offer.”
“What? ... Eureka!” Archimedes leapt to his feet with joy. His smile faded, and he sat back down. “It can’t be true. Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Khan are all here too.”
“I take your point. If you’re right, then these space aliens have a flaw in their collection process,” suggested Rachel.
Archimedes sprang up in alarm. His clothes instantly changed from a toga to a high school track uniform. “I must call our debating society into session.” He turned to rush off, and then spun back to face Rachel. She rose from her seat. Bowing deeply with his right hand over his heart, Archimedes said, “Thank you for your incite. We shall meet again. I promise it.”
Rachel smiled as he raced away. New potential, he’d said. Yes, she’d embrace the idea. This was definitely a new beginning, and after one maybe two hundred years, perhaps she’d have another new beginning. She was going to like this place.
It was time to start a “To Do” list, Rachel thought. After I learn to change my clothes like Archimedes, then I want to visit Julia Morgan, the architect of Hearst Castle. Perhaps Whitney Houston has an amphitheater like Elvis. Wait! Grandma May! Rachel started running. I can dance with Grandma May again!
Word count 1999