(published 16th April 2018)
“I CAN’T HEAR YOU. YOU CAN’T MAKE ME…”
“Mister King. Please. We’re trying to help you. If you would just be quiet for a moment—”
“I’M NOT LISTENING TO YOU. LA LA LA-”
“MARTIN! Thank you. We won’t tolerate childish behaviour, regardless of your emotional state. We are attempting to ease you through this painlessly.”
“What? What about my emotional state?”
The androgynous form paused to focus entirely on the man, its voice feminine and authoritative, understanding Martin would respond to a soft, commanding voice and a female appearance while under stress.
“You are not the first person to stand before us. You’re our eleventh this segment, and you are not unique, although your behaviour is not… usual. Please be patient and try to understand. We have many more entities to process this segment before we can-”
“Segment? What segment?”
“We understand how traumatised you must feel, but-”
“BUT that is no excuse for your attitude. Relax. Accept your reality and we can continue.”
“This is not happening. I’m not here. This isn’t real.”
“Oh, but it is. And you are. Your transition is very real, though you’re unable to comprehend it.”
“Understand? That, Martin, is clear. Your grasp is surprisingly weak. I thought you were better prepared. However, it is just a temporary glitch.”
“Are you calling me stupid?”
“No. But you are obstinate. If you lose your cynicism you will achieve great things. You’ve said many times in the course of your… development that seeing is believing. I’ll pander to you for a moment. Look around. Take it in.”
She turned to a subordinate hovering behind reflections on a translucent screen with a faint blue tone.
“Pause the segment, please.”
Behind the tinted screen a tall, elfin figure floated across the booth. Through the haze of the glass, Martin watched the figure’s shoulder move, though he couldn’t see an arm beneath.
He sensed the changing atmosphere more than seeing it. Lights dimmed without losing their glare. Ambient sound faded without the replacement of silence. An awareness, a sentience. A sense of calm. The elfin figure faced him, the shadows of the booth concealing its face. He felt its reassurance, a sensation of concern and tenderness being poured into him.
Martin looked at his surroundings. It had felt like a holding pen when he’d entered. Or perhaps a factory floor with a production line, processing humans instead of machinery. Nothing had changed – not that he could see – but it felt different now. The impression of mechanical emotion, of the mass production of anonymous souls, had drifted just out of reach. Now he felt the warmth of death and all its possibilities. His belligerence ebbed but confusion crept back in, tinged with panic.
An arm reached through his aura and into him. A hand held his brain, gently squeezing pressure points, calming him. He knew it wasn’t there, couldn’t be. The believing is in the seeing, he reminded himself, and he could see enough to know he was standing alone.
He concentrated, trying to find a pattern of breath. Calmly, he filled his lungs again. A shimmer of doubt: This is more than air. It contained aroma, a flavour that troubled him, though it felt soothing as he held it inside him.
He felt lighter and wondered if he was levitating, but the reassurance of solid ground pushing against his soles settled him. There was warmth to the air now, like a comforting embrace. He hadn’t noticed it before. Perhaps he’d been too blind – or angry – to see.
A smile withdrew him from his thoughts. He looked up to see who wore it and wondered why he’d never heard a smile before. It belonged to the androgynous form and Marten glanced away in shame. Her warmth drew him back and her lips parted, giving depth to her smile. Wrinkles embraced her eyes and he knew her smile was true. As he raised his face to her, a movement above distracted him. He watched projections of words in varying hues and volumes. The words merged and faded, blending with meaning, their shades and tempos evolving with conflicting emotions. He wondered whose words they were, and the question materialized upon the screen.
I’m reading my own thoughts.
He assumed he’d spoken aloud but no sound emerged. His lips would not move but his thoughts appeared before him, shrinking even as he created them. From livid red they drained of colour into a settled, desert yellow. Neither the androgynous figure nor the elfin form watched the projections. They were for his benefit alone; whilst he still needed to see, they could feel his thoughts with perfect clarity.
Martin tried to focus. They waited for him. He sensed their serenity and breathed slowly to calm himself.
“Don’t try, just be. Do not think, just accept. You have a distance to travel but you will see much if you let go.”
He sensed the presence of more of her kind around him, but they chose not to be seen. He imagined them in human form, forced by his inability to conceive of something more ethereal. His imaginings wavered but her smile centred him again. He understood her warmth.
“I’m safe here, aren’t I? This is everything. This is forever.”
“No, Martin. This is just now. You’re not ready for forever. You will be, but you have further to travel. You are ready for us to continue your preparation, though.” She turned again to the tinted pane. “Please continue the segment.”
A new sensation washed over him. A possible reality, a thought of whom he had been and was meant to be.
“Entities are not often ready for such enlightenment so soon. You have grown in spirit since you were last before us.”
“Last? I thought-”
“Martin. Remember what we showed you. Just accept. Be. You have done well.”
“I’m trying. Please help me understand. Who are you?”
“I am who I am.”
“Do you have a name?”
“I have many. Some have called me Queen Maya, some Mary. Some have named me higher than that. Name me as you will, as you have before. We embrace many forms. It does not change what we are.”
“What is that?”
“I am both your servant and your master. Maybe I am part of you. Perhaps your entirety. You may hold others higher than me. For some, I will be their all. Everything is not yet decided. You have been crafted with a journey in mind, but you decide your own road.”
“You speak as if you’re a god.”
“And still you learn.”
The fingers on his brain tightened with a viciousness he had not experienced. A tornado of agony bore through him, ripping his soul apart.
“No, Martin. Knitting it. Completing you. Soon you will be ready to move on.”
“Nnnngggaaahhhh. LET GO!”
Meteorites of white-hot visions burned through his flesh and welled inside him. Organs took life and pounded like fluid mechanics, contorting his body. The hand compressed his brain and the pain drowned his anguished screams. He felt the birth of his identity. Memories pounded his skull. Implosion and explosion, yin and yang, good and evil, black and…
“I REMEMBER. I KNOW WHO I AM. RELEASE ME.”
“Release yourself, Martin. You are who you chose to be. Let go. Be.”
“I am who I am.”
“Not alone, Martin. I am here. I have always been here. Open your mind and see.”
He relaxed. Floating in the void, he felt her reaching for him. He stretched out towards her and their spirits entwined, caressing one another. In his mind he saw completeness. More knowledge than he would ever hold.
“In time, Martin.”
“Am I ready?”
“I have questions.”
“There is time. Ask them.”
“Why? I felt the pain. I remember the… wound. I had more to do. There was much more to achieve.”
“You will be a great man. You will touch many. Many will say you were taken too early, but it is the journey you chose.”
“I’m confused. Is this the beginning or the end? I can’t see my birth but… I was too young to die.”
“Still you do not understand enough, Martin. You have foreseen one possible conclusion to your journey, but that may not be the end you ultimately decide upon. That time has not yet come. This is your transition. You requested another incarnation for greater learning. It is but a moment before rebirth. Soon you’ll be ready. And then, one day, you will have a dream…”
Edward Field is a writer, editor and the author of Permission to Rage: The Book on How to Complain Effectively, as well as three children’s plays currently on the South African curriculum. He writes and edits fiction, non-fiction, speeches, corporate presentations & brochures and his work has appeared in anthologies, websites and publications including The Stage, Breathe and Reflex Fiction.