Some tunnel to a blinding white light, they said. An exaltation, a release, a thrust from the bodily to the halcyon, they also said, kind of. From out the body, into the afterglow. Taken gently from this world to the next on a white steed from the heavens, to the heavens, where everlasting bliss awaits.
If only these flatliners had a clue. If only they knew that their brief lapses in heartbeat only afforded them a glance at a visual concoction of the last neurochemical whirr before total brain-death. That all those wishful thinkers out there, the daytime talk-show watchers, like me, weren’t so easily taken by their unction in each retelling of their story.
Not that anyone would ever believe the truth of the Grand Toilet Flush. How the soul’s post-body transportation is more like falling into an ectoplasmic vortex, than a peaceful floating upward.
One heck of a sensory vagary, I can assure you. The initial wave crashes through the body, takes you down a vast cylindrical wall, which flattens after a while, surface then to a smoother undulant before a gliding through darkness, blue light, a steep descent, sharp bends, green light, more darkness. Smell a combination of seaweed and, bizarrely, of cookie dough. One’s orientation completely, utterly scrambled.
Then, the Aether. This vast openness filled by swarming crowds of the recently deceased — flat without ceiling or floor, colourless, evidently vast, but its vastness not really seen. Vision being more of an eye thing for the living; a product of bodies. The afterworlds — of which there are many — tend towards landscapes navigated by feeling. Picture a kind of emotional braille, or the experience of a movie, without the actual movie.
Point is, you quickly learn to eschew the old approach to reality; and the new one, well, it’s pretty insane. But the Aether’s just a brief interlude. An airport lobby and a vectoring point for a soul’s next destination, of which there’s a literal infinity.
It wasn’t long after I arrived that I met Duncan. He didn’t tell me he was a god, at first, just introduced himself, shook my soul-hand, made me feel welcome, then gave his pitch. Effervescent fellow. He’d been watching me in the weeks leading up to the accident, apparently, and said that I was exactly the person he’d been looking for. That he’d been looking for a long, long time. Someone with the “right combination,” he said, leaving any further explanation as to what that combination was. Hard to resist his brand of enthusiasm in a place like that, and I’ve always been a tad myopic at the best of times.
It was good to have a body again, though. And what a magnificent body it was. Over seven feet tall, broad, thick-chested, as strong and fast and agile as a lesser Marvel character, with a full suit of medieval armour, sword, shield, and, inexplicably, size 22 Air Jordan sneakers. My quest, Duncan intoned, was to liberate the Queen from her capture at the hand of an evil warlock, whose name was Michael, and thus to save the whole kingdom from a dire fate.
The similarities to Earthen myth were no coincidence, Duncan explained. The world called Dangleberry — that’s right: Dangleberry — that I was taken to happened to inhabit the same cosmic coordinates as Earth did, only its evolutionary path had diverged from our own some few thousand years ago, apparently, after magic was discovered.
So be it. I rode in heroic posture a white sabre tooth tiger that I named Shadowfacts from the grassy glade towards the black mountains where Michael’s castle loomed its terrible silhouette; from light to shade, a shining haven to its shadowy antipode. Confident in my new physical stature, my sword, in victory, without a fucking clue as to how a sword is held, or swung. And why the sneakers?
Nevermind that now. Here comes a beautiful maiden down the way. Behold her, the cascade of her golden hair, the waving gossamer fabric of her dress, the galvanic thrust of her beauty that would penetrate even the most fortressed of all knightly hearts. Lord, how shall I repay thee?
Wait. What’s she doing?
I ducked just in time to miss the first lightning projectile, and Shadowfacts, more cunning than his dopey face would have you expect, lunged to the side. A sorceress.
“A witch, you moron,” she shouted, turning her palms in readiness for another strike.
This time I deflected with my sword, sure-handed, and surprisingly able, apparently possessing of a deft talent with the blade. Thank god for that, I thought, pushing forwards.
“You’re welcome,” echoed Duncan’s voice from the firmament above.
The witch soon relented her attack, and we both circled, our two stares cutting through the smoke in a raging diameter. “Begone, foul demon,” she hissed. “Your torment upon the villagers, is over!”
I lowered my sword. The villagers?
“What are you on about?”
Before she could answer, a booming voice in warrior’s falsetto came from over the rocky escarpment, and there a shadow high in the sky flew and fell with an almighty thump. Out the clearing cloud of dust stepped a gigantic troll spinning a six foot club, its one eye unblinking, maniacal, its countenance bent angry in a feverish bloodlust.
“Thieves!” it bellowed.
The witch’s alarm turned to puzzlement. “I’m no thief, you oversized goatfucker,” she replied.
“Heathens!” suddenly came the unison shout from a tripartite of Roman phalanxes from out the woods.
“Scoundrels!” roared a Dragon flying overhead.
“On guard!” growled an anthropomorphic grasshopper as it twirled its mace.
“Okay, everybody stop!” I shouted. “What the hell is going on around here?”
“Oh, sorry old chap,” came Duncan’s voice from the sky. “I had the dial set to Ludicrous Mode. Should be back to square in a jiff.”
“Well, I suppose you would’ve found out, sooner or later,” he said, with resignation. Then, more upbeat: “You’re in Dangleberry Rescue, an RPG I’ve been working on the past decade or so.”
“I’m in a fucking video game?”
I looked around at the cavalcade of misfits now frozen. Could be worse, I figured.
“Was going to be someone different, but you were a good enough fit. After you veered into my truck that night and I got a look at your profile bent over the steering wheel, seemed too fortuitous to pass up. Better to make use of what fortune throws at you than take some other poor bastard as well. Wouldn’t you say?”
“Do I have any other choice?”
“You sure do. This next go-around, would you rather the dragon, or are you happy with the sabre tooth?”
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