Every world deals differently with loss. There are those who mourn death, those who celebrate it as a homecoming. Those who find some happy medium in between. But by far the most interesting of worlds are those who do not acknowledge death at all…
Grandma, sitting at the kitchen table, has a massive coronary during breakfast. It only causes her to spill her coffee briefly, before bringing it back to her lips. Her heart has stopped, but it’s the only part of her that does.
“Ma, did you just…?” Her son, washing dishes, calls over his shoulder.
She checks her own pulse. “I reckon so, no heartbeat. I can’t feel the coffee burning my tongue.”
“That’s a shame. How long?”
“I guess we’ll see.”
“I guess so.”
Life continues around her like nothing has changed, her family still recognizes her presence as if she still belongs among them. And, for a while, she can convince herself she does. But death, accepted or not, has a way of claiming its own. More slowly in some worlds than in others, but it creeps upon us all the same. Undefeated to the last.
Grandma notices the color drain from the world. The sunset, once a rich tableau of orange-reds and burning yellows, turns dim gray. The leaves mush brown like autumn is upon her, even though the country still falls under spring’s thrall. Everyone speaks either too quietly or too loudly, always whispering, always shouting, and never quite at a level she can understand. Blood doesn’t flow so her wounds won’t heal, small scratches and unbruised blemishes mark her apart from the rest of her kind. As her nerves die, everything becomes a pain, even holding her beloved grandchildren, even a gentle hand resting on her shoulder. She knows, she can’t put it off any longer.
She turns to her son, her beloved daughter in law, and their three kids one night. Or perhaps it is day. All is dark to her know, all food tastes like dust or ash.
“It’s time,” She sighs, “I put it off for as long as I could… but it’s time.”
Her son’s eyes glisten, but he will not cry. “I had a feeling this day was near. We’ll miss you.”
If she could still feel, she’d mourn. But instead she is empty. The howling void creeps near, step by step it envelopes her. She feels her extremities crumble back to Earth.
“No… you won’t.”
The family blinks. Father, Mother and children stand around a floor covered in debris. They stare at the detritus, memories of the lost themselves already a distant memory.
“What were we-” The mother begins.
“I-I…” The father stops, the sadness at the tip of his tongue fading away, “…can’t remember. Grab me a broom, will you hun?”
There are some worlds where death is a rest-stop, a brief respite on the journey to oblivion. Those on these worlds remember, if not the truth of it, its essence. They know their time together is short, and after it’s over, all memories recede with it. These are worlds without mourning, without history, where the past and future exist on the same Möbius strip. Where they are shrouded by the same forgetting and never-knowing, a candle that burns on both ends.