I sat, and I just looked at them as they stared down at me. I could see that they were anxious about what happened next. There were tears in their eyes. Each face was different in their sadness, but each face held a look of understanding.
I was leaving, I was passing, I was dying.
They were so worried about what happened next. Everyone looks at a person who is dying and asks that question. Whether it is out of guilt or remorse or plain curiosity they, ask the question of where are they going? What will happen now?
Well, I knew exactly happened next six minutes after my passing.
Simply put, what happens when we pass is no different than anything else we have already done; we go and wait in line.
Now, it is much like the DMV before the computers and online check-in. Stuffy old offices where the waiting was as endless as the line you queued into. But here there are no numbers. There is no grand sign calling you to a station. Unfortunately, there is just a vast line and people waiting.
I like regular have forgotten parts of the story, which will help with understanding. I will have to go back a bit.
Let’s make some sense first.
As a people, we have gotten parts of the end right. I imagine from the beginning we have listened over and over to an endless amount of stories told around campfires. We then pass those stories to the next group around the next campfire. The words get lost or confused or changed as they are passed down the line. Each story is where we go when we die. What happens when we give up the mortal coil, and the Great Spirit takes us
When our bodies’ die, we go here, where ever that version of the campfire story should currently claim here is. Telling it over and over again in a myriad of languages dilutes the message, but not as far as might be expected.
For instance, there is a boatman, and he does ferry souls across a body of water. He is neither cloaked in black or only a skeletal form. He seems to be an ancient man. He always looks tired as if he has either never slept enough or always sleeps too much. His watercraft is more like the tied log raft that Huck and Jim used to navigate the mighty Mississippi. This forlorn creation is much like expected, with enough difference to draw question. Every part of this place is a reflection of the known upon the unknown. Thus it is correct in its fallacy.
Processing is where the real truth lies. A simple series of desk arranged in rows like a large classroom. Behind each desk is a clerk whose job is to answer questions and provide passage documentation. Think of it as a parent-teacher conference. These clerks explain your progress and what outcome might await you. They hand you forms and point out the important details. When you are done they shake your hand and thank you for your time and efforts.
The act of placing coins on the eyes or in the mouths of the dead is one of the most important details about the death.
The underworld is a costly affair with the sheer number of new arrivals. The clerk explains plainly that they need these coins to fund each individual transport. Those without coin or currency are shown to a waiting area filled with an ever continuing slurry of people, most of which without coin. They are stuck waiting for charity or luck to pay their fair.
The Pharaoh’s of old had it right in part. You keep whatever is on your person at the time of burial. If you have jewels and gold or something of the like you are out of luck. Only current coin of the realm is allowed for payment. I suggest leaving a five-dollar bill in the pants pocket of your loved one before you close the casket.
Due to this regulation most everyone is here, or moreover, everyone I would have expected to not be here still remains here.
Friends who had passed recently were toward the back welcoming me with open arms. Relatives who had passed when I was a mere boy were scattered throughout. They looked at me in amazement and commented on how much I had grown. I moved forward in line shaking hands, embraced by hugs, bespeckled with cheek pinches.
Then she was there, like she had never left. Evelyn, the one true love of my life.
I cried when I heard her call my name. She was still here waiting like I now was. I felt a small amount of relief overflowed with remnants of grief. My Evelyn was standing by my side again, waiting.
After I had been told of payment, I opted to stay awhile to seek out more options. I found in my jaunts a vast ocean of history.
Individuals from different eras still awaiting their chance at eternal peace. Conversing with one another in languages too many to count. Nikola Tesla was the first famous person I recognized. He died poor and had been waiting like the rest. He put his inventiveness to work providing light and power to a once dark cavern only lighten by bits of small fires.
Alexander the Great was still fighting battles and leading armies. It was all done in mock fashion on crudely erected stages of course. His words written by Shakespeare, his actions directed by Brando. His footfalls and follies provide by the Marx brothers and a still spry Charlie Chaplin.
Evelyn and I try to take in, at least, one show a day. Watching the world we once used to breathe paraded out as farce and comedy lightens us of the despair others succumb to.
Despair is a song sung around the clock for some. These lost souls tired of non-life sulk in the darker corners. They pled with the processors for some allowance. They seek the help of any newcomer who may have more coin than needed.
A girl, the age of five, is the most notable I have seen so far. Her hair bright red like fire and face white as snow reminds me of the song about poor unfortunate souls. I try to comfort her, but her lack of understanding feeds her grief.
“Mommy said it would be beautiful,” she cries with hands outstretched pleading for alms.
“I know my dear, my mother said the same.”
I want to tell her it is a mistake, but there is no mistaking the truth of this place.
Sadness is something I am familiar with, and a concept I am reminded of daily as I sit next to Evelyn. My, our family is one of the few left that practice the act of placing coins. I know she had them when she walked into the underworld as I cupped them in her hand before she was laid to rest. There is no reason she should still be here.
I asked her what had happened to her coins once. She explained a tale of a bride lost her love. A woman who had died the day she was wed in a car accident. Her husband had arrived before her and happened to have some change in the pockets of his tuxedo. The foolish boy had gone on ahead without a thought of his bride. The woman was so lost and heartbroken she could barely speak the bulk of her tale. Evelyn, being the kindest woman I have ever known, reached out her hand and gingerly gave the woman her coins. The woman, awe shocked by the action cried harder. Evelyn picked the bride up and walked her to the processing desks. She watched as the bride entered the ferry, and waved her on to her final happiness.
My wife, the hopeless romantic. My wife, a woman who won every agreement by saying, “because I love you.”
How could I ever argue with something like that?
At this point, I no longer question the great mystery that is death. There are far too many oddities of the underworld that need no explanations.
Evelyn managed to muster up a board for checkers. I play those willing to sit and pass the time with one or both of us. Our most common opponent is a young soldier by the name of Duncan Spindle.
He fell during the siege of Burgundy in the Great War. He still wears his uniform, which like most soldiers of his time held little room for money. Duncan is a good player and is more than willing to listen to stories of an old man who was born before he had passed.
Each time he sits down to play I reach into my pocket and feel the two silver coins my sons had placed there. The two coins are heavier than all the steel in the Rockefeller age. Two coins that could unravel the mysteries of everything. Two coins that could see me on my way. Two coins that would kill me all over to spend.
As I reach into my pocket, I can feel Evelyn’s eyes upon me. She knows I have them though I have never told her. She knows everything I have every done and will ever do.
She is my wife, and that is her job. She is superb at it.
Duncan reminds me that it is my move. Without a thought, I pull the coins from my pocket and place them on the board. Duncan looks at me in wonder. His face is puzzled by my action, but more so by his understanding of it. He reaches out and picks up the coins and holds them carefully in his hand. He smiles at me. I return his with one of my own.
“Your tour of duty is over my boy, time to go home,” I say with a salute.
Duncan rises and returns my salute. Tears are at the corners of his eyes. I reach out and wipe them away as if there were those of my own children.
Evelyn rushes over raining kisses on him as her final good-byes. I give him a firm handshake, which becomes a hug. We both watch him skip down the rows to the processing office.
I feel better than I have in a long time. I fell like it all makes sense.
This is what came next. This is what was always to come next.