The Earthbound Shade

After an Earthbound slumber, your spirit takes Father Time's hand. He leads you to the stars, introduces you to the man you could have been. At first, you do not understand. Flying past distant pinpoints of light you look through your translucent hands and wonder: “Am I… really?”

The Elder Father Time responds with a quick nod. Faint hands gripped in his opaque, brown mitts, your shade appears even more insubstantial.

“Yes. Your time is done. The course of your life carved in stone.”

His voice is deep like the space around you, vast like many universes. Its inexorable timbre pulls your soul past acceptance’s Event Horizon. No use in denying the obvious. No point fighting life’s abrupt end. For a while, neither of you speak as Father Time guides your ghost in the black. You, the shade, parse what it means to become meaningless.

It is too big to be seen, the unreality of nonexistence. It is too much to confront all at once. And yet you must, to see what comes next.

Eventually, they slow, hovering over a familiar sight. The shade beholds a blue-green orb, large swaths of its surface obscured by white.

“But this is-”

“Yes… and no.”

“How is that possible?

“The world you knew was one of many possible worlds that are, or might or will be.”

Father Time continues: “We travel not just through what, but through when. Back in time to a different Earth, where you are a different you.

“I take you to see the differences between your many souls, your countless hearts. What changes... and what does not. I take you to see the core of your being. Only once you understand that, will you understand what must happen next.”

You shake your see-through head, hoping futilely to clear away cobwebs of confusion, omnipresent since the onset of death. “I don’t unders-”

“No, but you will. Watch.” Suddenly you descend, down into the clouds towards a familiar landmass. Down into a familiar city and quiet home.

It is you, the shade, but alive. Much is the same, yet much is also different. This self wears different clothes, speaks a different tongue. Yet, connected by a kinship of the soul, you understand. And as you understand you remember. You knows what horror you are about to witness.

Your ghost turns to Father Time, near tears. “Please, please, don’t make me watch-”

“I make you do nothing. This is all your own doing.”

“Please, I understand. I get it. Let me fade away… or send me to hell. Whatever my fate is supposed to be. Just don’t make me-”

“Watch.”

You, the shade, try to close your eyes, but still can see the scene through translucent lids. You turn away, but the world turns with you. Father Time regards you without sympathy, his dark brow creases. “You will watch. There is no escaping what you do, what you have done.”

And so, despite your eyes shut tight, you do. You watch yourself, a different self, slowly sip a glass of wine. Your smile open and hungry. You watch the man, your mirror image, fingers lingering over a tray of knives, grin at the figure bound to a chair at his dining room table.

“Where shall we begin?” He/You ask over muted screams, tutting mockingly at the struggling victim. “Now, now, we’ve discussed this already.”

You/He selects an enormous cleaver with a thin, sharp blade. Handle shimmering in the firelight, its inlay bejeweled with glowing emeralds. You/He caress your victim to be with the blade, a thin wound tracing your path.

“No one can hear you. Not on this hill. No one is coming.”

And so, madness flirting with his gaze, your doppelgänger dances around the room. Long, slow and with many steps, yours is a terrible art. For a while, you cannot tell if the screams are your victim's or your own. However, after much dismemberment, there is no longer any doubt. Father Time forces you to watch the whole grisly deed, to see what glee you took in the bloody work. Viscera pools at and through your feet.

You turn to the wizened Father and again beseech.

“Please, I get it. I do. I… just, take me away. Anywhere but here. Anywhere. Anywhere...”

The old, dark man looks to you, his mouth a thin, sad line. He again does not speak, but his face says enough: Be careful what you wish for. He lifts you both back up into the heavens, back to the void and stars. Again you travel through space and time, alighting on another Earth.

Immediately, you know what you will see. “No, please, not again. I meant-”

“What you meant is immaterial. This, it is your fate to endure.”

Here, on this Earth, you follow a young man in a dim alley. From the smile on his face, he clearly expects a different sort of encounter.

“So,” He laughs, “What did you want to-” He stops laughing immediately upon seeing your gun.

“Wait, wait. I’ll do anything. Just please d-”

Your only reply is gunfire. Its retort echoes in the rainy night. People flock to the alley, but we are already gone. On to the next Earth. And on and on. The methods and means change, but the result is always the same. You are always the same monster, with an unslakable thirst. At first you beg, plead with Father Time to show no more. You throw myself at the hem of his celestial, shimmering garment, but to no avail.

It is always the same refrain: “You must understand.”

“But I do! Please make it stop!”

He looks at you, the shade, inscrutable. “No, you don't.”

Finally, floating above a world where you dissect your victims. A doctor obsessed with experimentation. You at last ask the right question:

“What will it take for me to understand? How do I make this stop?”

At first, it looks like Father Time will not answer, a tortured silence. But after a pause, he sighs, with empathy in his glimmering eyes that are bright like the stars and just as distant. He relents, just this once.

“You must understand. There are countless universes. Within most universes Earth never forms, yet still there are countless Earths... On most Earths, life never comes to be. They are fields, forever fallow. Yet on countless others form Vernal pools...

"Even when there is life, the vast section of worlds never birth men, and yet there are limitless iterations of humanity...”

Each word he speaks slowly, each word penetrates your ken a little deeper. "In most human civilizations, you are never born, and yet..."

You finish the thought at it's only logical destination. “There are countless 'me’s'. This will never, ever end. This is... Hell?”

“Someone once wrote 'Hell is other people',” Father Time smirks, “But truly, Hell is bearing the weight of your worst sins in perpetuity. Hell is realizing that life, your choices in life were always but an illusion. You were always meant to be damned, always fated to be evil.

“Hell is realizing there is no justice, no fairness, no escape from what you have done. Hell is seeing you have no recourse but to suffer.”

You do not respond. Indeed, there is nothing for you to say. No futile protest to lodge In the quiet, Father Time senses your understanding and acceptance. The two of you, jailed and jailor, take flight once more. The two of you disappear into the past, into your many crimes and their frightful symmetry.

As the stars pass you by, and the planets too, you wonder. How many others slip through the void, made to witness sins they would sooner forget?

How many others arrive at this moment? Where they accept Death is a pain that will never end.