I remember dying, but I don’t remember living.
Does that sound strange to you? It should, because as far as I am aware you don’t exist and never have. In all likelihood, you never will. But that is a decision yet to be made, in a future without a past, and in a world still to be imagined.
Even though you don’t exist, I know all about you, or at least I will. I will have access to your thoughts, your loves, your hates, your dreams, your fears. I will know the hidden corners of your mind. The places where you go to escape to rake over the ashes of the ruins of your hopes and aspirations. I will know both the face you show to the world and the real one you keep hidden behind your smile. Oh yes, I will know it all. The good, the bad, the noble, the despicable. I shall know it all, for you will be my creature!
“How is that possible?” I hear you ask, “Especially if you are dead and I have never existed?” Your voice betrays your confusion and your insecurity both. Am I cruel to take such delight at your fear and apprehension?
Are you starting to doubt your own existence? So soon? We have a long path still to tread, you and I. For before you can live, you must first be born and neither of us is ready for that just yet. The journey to self-awareness is a painful process. Be patient my friend of a tomorrow yet to be.
However, you pose a reasonable question and in fairness, one that I suppose that I should try and answer. After all, we may be working closely together for quite some while. On the other hand, is it worth my time and effort explaining the workings of the multiverse to someone who doesn’t exist? Do the doubts of your fledgling soul now touch me too?
That would be crazy, but there again I am dead and have all the time there ever was or ever will be. Maybe I am the insane one after all. If it isn’t you, it has to be me, right? So let me start at the beginning by telling you about my death.
I was a soldier, or at least I think I was. It is still hazy. I remember the roar of the artillery and the crash of the shells exploding all around. I remember the relentless drone of the bombers overhead and the smell of damp earth and cordite as I lay soaked and shivering at the bottom of a muddy trench.
I remember the shrill call of the whistles ordering us “Over the Top”, but I can’t recall actually climbing the ladder and charging forward with my companions across the sodden fields into the guns of the enemy. I do remember the blood, the gore, the screams of the dying and the living both. But I don’t remember the passage of the life that had led me there.
As I speak to you, the past and the present merge. Now I am looking down at the puzzled look on my best friend’s face as he stares at his shattered body laying five yards further on. For the briefest moment, his eyes swivel in his dead skull and focus on my own. There is no accusation in them, just pity. They glaze over, and his spirit is gone. I feel I should weep, but I have no tears left to shed.
A shell explodes close by in a spray of soil and splintered stone. The sounds of the battle fade to silence as the blood runs from my ears. My lungs are burning from the acrid smoke, and I cannot breathe. Panic takes me though I feel no pain. I no longer know who or what or where I am. Even the ever-present voice in my head is gone. Fire engulfs me, searing the flesh from my broken body.
I am dead.
Yet in some unknowable way my essence endures. I cannot move for I am no more than a pile of smouldering bones, but somehow I see without eyes to see and listen without ears to hear. I sense that around me, the battle rages on. Men and horses die in pain and overwhelming terror. Blown apart for a cause they do not understand let alone believe in. Yellow clouds of death roll across the killing fields, choking the final life from the human detritus that lies scattered across these plains of pain and suffering.
I am dead, and those all around me are dead. Night and silence fall. The carrion eaters fall from the sky, and crawl from their dens, and rise from the mud, to rip and tear the still-warm flesh from the fallen.
I try to recall my life before the battle, but nothing comes. I do not remember my childhood, my parents, my loves my hopes. Nothing but the battle’s roar and the pain of senseless slaughter.
I am dead, but I feel no fear, no anxiety. I know in my depths that this is how it is meant to be for me. This is my role. It has always been my role and the part I am destined to play. For some reason, that does not feel strange to me. Maybe I am becoming you? An insignificant mote cast upon the endless currents of an uncaring infinite ocean.
Time passes. My unnatural sight grows dim as my remains sink beneath the soil of a Belgian field. I cease to think. I cease to exist. For me, time’s arrow is paused in its inexorable forward flight like a bubble in a frozen stream waiting for Spring. I feel that I should be afraid, but I am not.
For I am dead, and the dead know no fear.
Yet, for now, I am awake and aware again. The icy dam has burst and times waters flow once more. I hear or rather feel the sounds of digging. Now I can see the sky again! It is an overcast morning, and I can see, but not feel, that a gentle drizzle falls about me, washing the grime from my soot-stained bones.
There are people gathered around my makeshift grave. They are wearing uniforms. British uniforms! I try to speak, to call out to them, but, of course, I have no flesh, no lungs, no larynx with which to form the words.
They do not answer me. How could they?
I remember that I am dead. I have always been dead, except for those few moments before I died.
I know without flesh to feel when they referentially lift my scorched skeleton from the mud and place it on a gun carriage. In my mind’s eye, I smile when the pastor prays for me as they lay the flag upon my corpse.
Time passes, and my dreamless sleep returns for I know not how long. Hours, days, months? It’s all the same to those of us who have passed beyond.
Now they are laying me in the ground once more, and I hear fine words as they tell of how I died for my country. How I was a hero, who died for the cause of freedom and everlasting peace. They
But that was long ago or is yet to be? As I speak to you, it seems to me that it is the here and now. Can you see where this is going or are you still confused? Are you perhaps becoming as real in your own mind, as I am in mine? Do constructs dream? Do they have a soul? Who are you? Who are we?
No matter. You are taking form and becoming real to me, and indeed, to yourself. I sense that you are starting to believe that your thoughts and desires are your own. Are you sure about that? Do you exist within my imagination, or do I exist only within yours? Ah! I see that you begin to recognise the quandary.
So let me tell you the true story of my life before I died. But of which life should I speak? For now, the mists of my past roll back and I recall so many experiences, so many deaths.
Shall I tell you how I fought as a spearman at Achilles side before the walls of Troy, or how I served as charioteer to Alexander in his rampage across Persia, and beyond to India.
Maybe you would be more interested in hearing how I scaled the walls of lofty Rome with Alaric’s Visigoths, before having my skull cleft in two by a fat old butcher defending his daughter’s virtue with a cleaver.
I fought on the walls of Constantinople against the hook-nosed Ottomans. I loosed arrows from horseback on the Steppes and raised the Khan’s black tent before countless doomed cities.
I fought for the French at Agincourt with blade and axe and set the fuse to the cannons at Gettysburg that hurled sharp bloody edged death into the unprotected flesh of my cousins.
I pressed the button that released Little Boy over Hiroshima before flying home in the arms of my sweetheart Enola Gay, leaving death and destruction in our wake.
It was me that the Umbrella chose to release the T-Virus on Racoon city.
I have piloted sleek dart ships beyond the rings of Saturn and soared above the sands of ancient Mars on the backs of fire eagles.
I have been a soldier, a sailor, a man, a woman, an assassin, a tracker, a wizard.
I have fought with and been Men, Aliens, Demons and beasts beyond imagining. I have battled the living and the dead through realms both real and illusory.
I have been a leader and a follower in countless battles, but throughout them all, one thing has been constant. In every life, I have died in horror and in pain with blood on my hands and hate in my heart. With every death, my past has dissolved. My memories dissipated on the winds of history.
I have killed, butchered, raped, tortured and drunk the blood of innocents with glee, but these crimes do not trouble my vaporous conscience.
For in every life and in every death, it was others that held my reins and directed my path. It was never my choice nor my will that aimed the sword, the spear, the axe, the gun, the missile. I know that now and for this instant it is true.
To my victims vengeful accusations, I plead guilty, but in my defence, I plead that I was always under orders. I had no other choice. For me, free will was not an option.
For I am dead and unreal, and the dead and the imagined have no conscience. We suffer no guilt. For we, who are dead, and have gone beyond, know that there are no Gods. There is no heaven, and there is no hell. There is only the void between the now and the never-ending cycles beyond. We are but puppets, our strings pulled by others beyond our understanding for their own macabre pleasure.
Oh! So now you acknowledge me, do you? What have these ramblings to do with you, I hear you ask? You who have never existed, so share no blame. Be patient. Accept for the moment, that though you have no past, in the future you may have a present. I hope they use you gently.
Meanwhile, for me, this time, it is different. For even though I have no substance, I am yet aware in the womb of the void. The memories of my lives are now open to me, and despite the horror, they comfort me. For my spirit soars with the remembered joy of battle’s rage. I know that soon, I will be renewed, albeit only to die again for my controller’s pleasure. But for the moment there is only the now, and that pleases me. I am alone and shall always be so. I have no free will. I can change nothing. I am dead.
Yet I am talking to you. Even though you do not exist except in the echoes of my dreams and the tangled forests of my mind. Are you perhaps real, after all? You do not answer. That saddens me. I so want you to be real. For that would give my current life purpose and meaning.
Oh, thank you for that! I hear you when you reply that “I am real. I think. I exist. I am me.”
I wish that I could make it so. Alas, I am no latter-day Geppetto with the power to snap your strings and release you from Atropos cruel whimsy.
But what is this I see before me now, without light to see nor form to touch? A room appears around me.
I am sitting in a chair where there was no chair before. I can feel my body, my legs, my arms, my hands. I can see with eyes that react to real light. My lungs draw sweet breath.
I do live, or at least I think I do and isn’t that the same! My will is my own! I know this with every fibre of my non-existent being. I know that, as I decide, so it shall be.
I wish I could share with you this joy that I feel. The joy of being alive, being real, for the first time in a hundred lives. To know beyond doubt that this time, I am unique. My destiny is my own to set. But of course, you cannot, for you do not exist outside of me and I am imaginary and therefore so are you.
Or are you? I sense you struggling to be born. You cry out that you have a life to live and a story to tell. You demand I give you existence. In truth, given this journey into awareness we have shared, how could I deny you?
I picture the world you would live in if only your time had come. If it were up to me, I would make a world for you like no other has ever been before. There would be mountains to climb and cool lakes in which to swim. There would be rich fruits to eat and wondrous flowers to delight your sight and smell.
The world would be full of people and beings who did not want to kill you and whom you, in turn, did not lust to destroy.
There would be no hate and no disease. There would be no disasters and no horrors from the depths of hell to torment your waking day and dreaming nights.
There would be peace and best of all, there would be laughter and friendship and love. Your life would be a delight, full of joy and purpose.
I would give you free will and let you make of it what you would. I would not interfere, I promise, although that may be a decision for which you would come to hate me.
Wishful thinking? Pointless dreaming? Perhaps, but something niggles deep within me. An itch I cannot deny. This time, my role in the never-ending game has changed. This time I am not a soldier or a beast or a mindless weapon of mass destruction. I am a God!
This time my designated role is to be the Creator. This time it is I who will set the rules of the game. Already I feel the power rising within me. I do not care if the thoughts are my own or those of some unseen, off-stage director.
I do not care if they are random firings of electrical impulses in the circuits of an unfeeling machine, birthed in a micro storm of static. In a quantum universe, anything is possible. It just takes a conscious observation to collapse the probability wave, and your time will have come. Use it well.
I lean forward to the keyboard that appears before me and type of my own free will:-
LET THERE BE LIGHT.
Off-stage, the “Director” smiles, pleased with the decision of her creation. She has been playing The Creation Game™ for hours, days, months even. It occurs to her that maybe she, herself, is nothing more than a character in another’s game.
No matter. The Director reaches out, flips the switch, and the console dies.
But, even as the screen winks out, beyond this reality, another universe flares into existence. And the God of that universe sees that it is Good.