Short Fiction About the Afterlife: Set on the Soul Path
None of us remembered how we had gotten there. We had no conscious recollection of our past. We were the same yet different; we weren't children nor were we elderly...we simply were.
We knew we had lived.
When we'd found each other as we wandered out of the mist, we weren't strangers. Somehow we knew each other, though we'd forgotten even our own names.
The morning I found them, I wasn't the last to appear. When our number reached forty, we knew there would be no more coming.
The next day we began walking, to where, none of us knew.
There was a path; it started and ended at the impenetrable fog beyond which we could hear crashing waves. The trail that led off through a clearing and into woods beyond was clearly defined, as if it had been used recently and often.
We briefly discussed sending someone back into the gloom to search for answers, but it somehow seemed pointless. Every instinct prodded us onward.
Time passed, daylight receded, and night fell.
We walked the path and saw no living creature other than wiry grass and gray-barked trees. The ground was moist and what little sunlight that penetrated the wood was joyless and cold. The dirt trail mocked us with reptilian resolve. It snaked through the dark wood and we wondered if it was infinite.
Tufts of weeds and brown grass sprouted from foul muck on either side of the trail. The silence was deafening since we had no voices of our own and our shuffling feet made no sound on the dirt.
We felt no need to rest and we never tired. We halted our progress from time to time only out of habit. We required neither food nor water and this was fortunate for us since there was nothing to eat and the puddles and pools were of an evil hue.
On the tenth day, we heard a voice. Though its volume was almost a whisper, it startled us in the perpetual quiet. It told us to follow the path, only it said, "My path is the only Way. Do not be afraid."
The oration filled me with peace and I knew the words came from a benevolent force; it calmed me to know there was something out there guiding me on this journey.
Many of the others, however, were troubled. Two of our companions struggled and would walk no further, their uncertain souls afraid to face that which had spoken.
And on the twelfth day, the visions began.
For me, they were like three-dimensional snapshots. I watched myself being born from darkness. My newborn eyes made out only the faintest of shapes but I could feel my mother's heartbeat when I was placed on her breast. I heard my father's voice, strong and laughing, and my spirit did waver on the path.
I couldn't see what my companions were seeing, but I felt them stir, too. Emotions stronger than any sound surrounded and confused us. Soon we had stopped amid a storm of remembrance, regret, heartbreak, and an uncertainty bordering on madness.
Some simply sat down on the dirt trail and wept. Others were unwilling to leave their memories behind and they left the path seeking the source of this turmoil.
For my part, I moved forward. The visions continued and my childhood came flooding back to my memory. More was revealed and it was neither good nor bad; it was just as it was supposed to be.
My faith grew and I moved on.
On the morning of the thirteenth day, our number had dwindled to twenty-four.
Though we were incapable of producing any audible sound, we did communicate with one another. We discussed what was happening to us and wondered what had become of those who had left the path.
Seeking to save as many as I could, I offered that we must continue down the path to whatever end awaited us. The others had to admit they felt drawn to do as I suggested, but by the fifteenth day, twelve more were unable to ignore the calls of their children, their spouses, their earthly desires. And when they left the path they were no more; we could no longer sense them.
On the twentieth day, six of us remained and we left the dreary forest. We stopped and stared as we stepped out into warm sunshine, and we wept. Not because we felt we had escaped anything nefarious, but because we could no longer hear that which we had loved in life.
We eventually rose to follow the trail into a bright meadow that lay at the foot of a majestic pale mountain. Its peak was shrouded in clouds and light. When the woods behind were nearly out of sight, two more apologetically left us and returned to the forest. The permanence of leaving their silenced lives forever behind moved them to return to familiar things instead of moving forward to meet the unknown that lie ahead. I begged them not to go, but they just smiled sadly at me and left.
Reduced to four souls, we followed the path up a gentle rise beyond the meadow and the terrain again changed. Soon we were picking our way around mossy boulders and enormous pine and spruce trees.
Now no longer haunted by our former lives, we moved with purpose.
Though there was nothing physical about our beings, we hadn't yet grown used to our new state. So like ambivalent ghostly hikers, we were slowed as the trail grew steep. The entire process was disconcerting, like learning to crawl all over again, but after a few more days we reached the clouds.
Now our faith was tested when we found ourselves sightless. All was white light. Blind, we were still able to follow the path as the voice returned and told us how and where to place each footstep. Soon we heard other voices trying to mimic our Guide and their cries and taunts echoed off the mountainside when they failed to sway us.
For ten days more we blindly followed through the clouds. Without realizing it, the four of us had become one resolute force. Our concern for each other in that white nothingness, our unwillingness to let anyone fall prey to those dread imposters had made us into something new and more powerful.
We passed through the clouds.
What we found is indescribable, but I will try to explain it. If joy, wonder, elation, bliss, relief, and triumph could all be bundled into one emotion, this is what we felt at what we now witnessed.
A great, shimmering ball of light enveloped the mountain peak, and as we marched onward, we felt our form being melded with a perfect energy which we knew all life had sprung from.
We shouted and cried as all meaning was revealed to us. The light took us and we did live forever.
Everything we ever thought we knew was shattered. I was still me, but me without any restraints. I desired nothing that wasn't Good.
I explored worlds and galaxies in the blink of an eye. Throughout, the Guide who had led me here never left my side.
He is ever in me, and I in him, and infinite other spirits rejoice with me.
My earthly memories merged with other new and unforgotten memories, and I never regretted the journey which had made me perfect.