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Conversations with Death (Part 1)
There’s an old man sitting on a bench. His hat, an outdated bowler, is pulled low over eyes set deep into a bent head. His hands are folded in his lap.
His eyes, they’re open; he’s not praying. But he’s talking to God nonetheless.
A sigh: wind? Breath?
A young man appears, sitting next to him on the bench. It’s gentle, his sudden presence. No flash of light or loud bang. He just is there.
“I remember you,” the old man says quietly, still gazing at his laced fingers. “You were there with her, at the end.”
“Yes,” the young man replies. “I was there. I am always there.”
“Do things ever change?”
“What do you mean?”
“People. Men, women. Do they change?”
They sit in silence.
“My granddaughter,” the old man says, breaking the quiet, startling himself. “I see myself in her. She could be me. I see her make the same choices, the same mistakes I’ve made.”
“Yes,” the young man replies. “She is very like you. I was there when she cried for her mother.”
“Good,” the old man sighs. “She doesn’t like to be alone.”
“People do not change. They make the same choices that they have throughout time. Whether those choices are mistakes or not is not something that I am qualified to assess. I see patterns, repetition. That is all.”
“That’s real comforting.”
“I am sorry.”
The old man sighs again, heavier, with the weight of generations sighing the same sigh.
“Have you made your peace with Him yet?” the young man asks.
“Does anyone ever?” the old man returns after a pause, with a short, bitter laugh.
“That wasn’t a question.”
“What about places? Do they change?”
“Give me an example.”
The young man looks at the old. His eyes are expressionless, ancient, knowing.
“In the beginning was fire,” the young man begins. “Fire and darkness.”
“And God spoke and the earth was created. I know the Bible. Move on.”
“Fire and darkness,” the young man repeats. “All was fire and darkness. And now there is life and color. That qualifies as a change.”
“Give me a more specific example.”
“In the Dark Ages, there was nothing but forest here. Trees as old as the ground, with their own life and children. The people that lived among the trees were afraid of the darkness that crept between them. Later others came, with axes and saws and cut down the trees. The wood went to build houses. There was a town a few miles from here. The river flooded, and most of the townspeople died. The survivors moved here and founded this town. But here, where we are. The building. This was a factory, and a school. I was with many people here.”
“In a school?”
“You would be surprised. Now we sit in a courthouse. So you tell me, has the place changed?”
“I don’t know.”
“That is alright.”
The old man looks up for the first time from his hands, to take in his surroundings. “Why aren’t you rushing me?” he asks.
“I am here,” the young man replies. “We have all the time you want.”
“What if I want to talk forever and never leave?”
“Then I suppose we shall talk for a very long while.”
“You do not know what forever means.”
“Well, I will soon enough.”
“She would say wearing a hat indoors is rude,” the old man whispers.
The young man doesn’t respond.
“She would make me take it off. She would make me look at you while we talk. She was bossy like that. Do you know where I’m going?”
“Up or down?”
“I am not at liberty to tell you.”
“Where is she?”
“I cannot answer that.”
“Do you know?”
“Why can’t you tell me?”
“It would not make a difference.”
“Then tell me.”
“Why are there no people in this hallway?”
“We are no longer in the real courthouse. This is the transition.”
“So what’s left? What do I do from here?”
“There is a door at the end of the hallway. Through it you will find a corridor. It is your decision whether to turn left or right.”
“Where does the corridor end?”
“That depends on where you are going.”
The old man looks down the hall, towards the door.
“Is He real? Is He waiting for me?”
“That is for you to decide.”
“What happens if I decide that He doesn’t exist?”
“You have to go through the door to find out.”
“Why won’t you answer my questions?”
“I have answered what I can. I am not God, or a god, or an angel, or a demon or anything that is in the world nor above nor below it. I am not omniscient.”
“Is there anything at the end of the corridor?”
“I do not know. I have not walked it.”
“Would you walk it with me, if I asked you?”
The old man takes off his hat and studies it in the silence. Inscrutable, the young man gazes off into the distance.
“I should go,” the old man says. The young man is silent. The old man stands, replaces his bowler. “I’ll be around.”
The young man waits until the old man is halfway to the door before speaking again: “I can tell you that you will not like where you go.”
The old man pauses, doesn’t turn. “We’ll see.” Begins walking again.
He reaches the door, places his hand on the knob. Turns it. Pushes the door open.
He stands for a long time on the threshold, looking left and right.
He steps forward, the door swings shut behind him.
The young man stands, frowns faintly, and is gone.
The bench and the hallway linger, still glowing faintly from the presences that were there. Then they fade slowly, quietly into mist.
Kansas City, Kansas
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