A man discovers the meaning of Life
| Every man has secrets, even those he keeps from himself, and as Colin Whittier strolled beneath a coal-dark sludge of clouds that flowed and seeped into the night, he thought about the secret he had unlocked.
At forty-five years of age, a man always seems to come face to face with his mortality, and as Colin made his way along the dark street, head hanging low, he began to weep with an overwhelming frustration. He felt empty and insignificant, as if he just hadn’t tried hard enough in life, or had wasted too much valuable time simply doing…nothing.
The wind had picked up, and with rat-like scraping and rustling, crisp dead leaves scurried in packs about his feet. The tall pines that bordered the road like sentinels appeared to be asleep at their posts, and a suspicious owl kept repeating its same single question. In the distance, the jagged mountain ridge defined the edge of the world, while out on the interstate, cars rolled ceaselessly toward far destinations. Colin could hear the singing of their tires, the grumble of their engines, and the whoosh of the air displaced by their passage as they cleaved through the night.
What have I got to show for my life?
Again, he thought…Nothing.
He had lived like so many others in this world, no more than a colony of sea anemones, stirred by slow deep currents, waiting dumbly for a morsel of food to drift to them—never taking a chance—always playing it safe.
Now it was too late.
Tears rolled down his face, and the cold wind scraped at his hollow bones, making him shudder within his pale, thin skin. Overhead, a hole in the sky appeared with stars beyond counting, and as he felt himself float toward them, he looked down at the town below and saw it sparkle like a necklace of light in the never-ending darkness.
Six months earlier, Colin had stumbled upon a little known truth: that the key to Life was Death, and it had always been right there in front of him, within an arms length, watching and waiting for him to seize upon it and bring it on home. Existence, he had found, was no more than a door, kept shut by the force of Life itself to keep the Living from entering the Unknown. As much as people professed at searching their hearts and souls to find themselves, it inevitably, lead them nowhere. They always came back to where they started—the blank wall—the locked door.
Colin clearly remembered the dark glee with which he had pulled the trigger of the gun: the loud pop, the weapon kicking from his hand, and the feeling of catching a heavy hammer in the temple. The pain might not have been worse if he’d tried to wash his hair with a tangled wad of barbed wire and bent nails, his head burning as if it harbored a kerosene fire. His body trembled with wracking shudders that clacked his teeth together, violently clenching and unclenching like a grasping fist.
And there had been that coolness too, on the opposite side of his skull where the bullet had torn a large chunk out, and the chill of the outside air as it seductively caressed his exposed brain. He watched the fingers of his right hand curl and claw like the legs of a dying tarantula. Then he fell forward, the side of his head a frozen void into which he seemed to be dissolving, growing hollower and hollower, colder and colder, as the cool air rapidly spread throughout his body, leaving a frostbitten numbness that enveloped him in a cocoon of ice.
Then he was free, all the pain and worry of everyday life gone forever. No more bills or taxes to pay before the deadline. No more jobs that dragged him reluctantly out of his warm bed every morning. No more pressure to get ahead, work harder, or pray for a raise that would never come.
Olly, olly, oxen free! he thought. Game over.
At first, he was elated. It felt as if a heavy yoke was lifted from his shoulders. Surprisingly, there had been no Heaven—no Hell—just a funny kind of floating sensation that allowed him to travel anywhere at will. He was there when the ambulance took his body away, his face as white and shiny as a porcelain mask. He watched as the cop filled out the police report and wrote SUICIDE in big red letters across the front.
After that, there was no one to talk to and no place to go. He was utterly alone, no longer one with all the brutalized, despised, downtrodden, misunderstood, cheated, outcast, manipulated people of the world. The realization moved him deeply and the agony of it contorted his pale features. He felt an overwhelming loss of belonging, brotherhood, and sense of common humanity. Cupping his face in his hands, his body wrenched with shuddering sobs.
He inevitably hung around observing other people as they continued to play the game, but found it impossible to interact with them. They looked right through him as though he were as transparent as glass. He’d yell and scream their name, but the most he could do was to lightly stir the air, cause a breath of breeze. His undeveloped will had little or no power. After all, his game piece was taken off the board. Colin Whittier was no more.
Thousands of stars salted the sky and the wind howled and muttered as if cursing in a brutal language. Colin curled and spun wildly within the funneled air stream until the stars themselves became a kaleidoscope of shapes and forms that pooled toward a mysterious blackness—a dead gray face of night that awaited burial.
He struggled against the drift of stars and dazzling lights that sounded as though something rusty had turned in the wind, a phantom sound that only he could hear. Drawn to it like a moth to a bug light, his spirit catapulted forward at such velocity that it felt like an approaching orgasm.
Then as suddenly as it had started, it stopped where the veiled sky folded down to meet the hidden land, and a lone figure, hooded and dressed all in black, stood in front of him, large, frightening, and yet…majestic.
“Who are you?”
“If Death had a name, what would it be?” the figure spoke in a tortured voice that sounded like ripping cloth.
“You…are Death?” even as Colin said it, he knew it to be true.
“I am the Key to the Secrets of the Universe—the clandestine Truth that you so desired.” His hood opened slightly as he spoke and Colin saw two burning embers where eyes should have been.
“You look just like I pictured you.”
There was a skeletal smile from beneath the hood and a rumble as if distant thunder. “I appear exactly as you picture me. To you, my true form is incomprehensible.”
“Then this is it? This is all there is? I just float around for all eternity?”
Death paused before answering, staring into Colin with those bright red eyes. “Oh no, it gets better…or worse.”
Colin didn’t like the way he said that. “What do you mean?”
“I am but the Key, not the Way. Through me, the door is unlocked. As in Life, you must find the path you are to travel in Death, or stay here if that is what you desire.”
“I don’t want to stay here. It’s as lonely as hell.”
Again, there was that cryptic smile. “As I said, it is your choice.” Then he began to fade like a smudge of cloud blown across the sky.
“Wait! Don’t go! How do I find the right path?”
The voice was a whisper like a sound coming down a long corridor. “It’s hard…and takes time. You have to work at it.”