This is a short piece based on the writings of David Eagleman contained in his book SUM. I first heard his ideas of death on a RadioLab podcast, and I decided to embellish one of them. Many thanks to him for allowing me run, or rather stumble along with it. To understand where this story is based, you need to read this short excerpt.
It’s just past midnight and this 5th of September is only a few seconds old. There are many recognisable faces on the functional cream mezzanine. There is the core, the ones that gather every year to mark the anniversary. These are the ones most likely to crave to hear The Callers call their name, but fear they never will. And there are those that have never been here before, or just once or twice. These are the ones that both fear they will be forgotten and also fear the better place.
Many are missing from last year, their places taken by those debutants. They came in through the huge entrance, watched from this same mezzanine by every Uncalled soul that passed away one 5th September.
Throughout the vast hall, souls are spread and have collected in familiar groups. Mostly by geography and nationalities, but often by interest too – sometimes centuries apart. Discussions are stilted, as opinions and knowledge remain at the level they were when they died. Although no one feels pain any longer, they are all left with the bodies they had in their final hours, containers that move without effort.
Watching over the arrivals, Teresa sits waiting for friends. She likes company on the anniversary, as opposed to her usual penchant for solitude. They say she died in a state of extreme spiritual dryness, that for many years she felt unable to reach God. Her contemplation on eternity should weigh heavily on her, but today she looks amused.
Further back, uninterested in everything, Crazy Horse is looking forward to returning to his family at the end of the day. He struggles with this place. It doesn’t take him closer to the real world that was meant to be behind the shadow world of Earth. The paint on his face can’t hide his tiredness, his disappointment. He is without his horse, there are no animals in this hall.
Arrivals are reunited with those that passed before them. Malcolm is overjoyed to see his darling wife. He understands they may not have long before The Callers demand him, as their closeness and childlessness means he will be forgotten soon. With luck, Dorothy will be too. She may, or may not, sit on the mezzanine next year. She tells him she loves him and they walk away, completed.
A baby, a resident of earth for just a few hours. A lonely soul will sit him on their knee, quietly waiting for someone to cleave them apart – a relative, a Caller. In the distance a Caller can be heard now, followed by the murmur that accompanies each time. Is this soul relieved or upset? Are they ready for their third death?
Jane is away from her husband for the day. The hall is a confusing place for her, like it is for many people, but her questions are unusual. And while she sits, sipping coffee and seeing rather than watching the influx, her mind turns to Seth. He was of huge importance on Earth, her connection to what she then called the spirit world. When she first came to the hall 29 years ago, and she realised where she was, she looked for him, restlessly. All the while her first thoughts on Earth, that Seth was perhaps a part of her personality, clung to her like moss. Until people stop remembering her, until she can pass, she won’t know if she channelled Seth from the better place. In previous years she has had long, pointless discussions with a man called Kennedy. Most learn that you can’t change another’s mind in this hall, but some don’t. Jane hopes that she can avoid him today – it’s a large enough area in which to take cover, but still a fraction of the size of the entire hall.
At a table close by, some younger souls are in the process of sitting down together, having just met up. There are many of them. A man with long hair is joking with a Japanese teenager. Their smiles are easy, and there are several others with them. Happiness is not rare but laughter almost never echoes around the high ceilings. Of all the tables over-looking the entrance, this is one with the sense of reunion. The first man, Evan, has the physique and face of a brawler. The Japanese man is slight. In contrast, a fat, short twenty-something cradles a large cup of coffee. This is Ally, bought here by an accident of youthful bravado. Of course many of the younger ones are here because of accidents; some could have been avoided, some were foolish, some just happened. Almost all left a great sense of loss and almost all carry that youthful sense of immortality with them – it will be a long time until they are forgotten, and they don’t expect their names to cross the Callers lips soon.
A Cardinal joins Teresa and greets her as ‘Little Flower’.
“Every year, Basil. Your instincts to play my older brother bring me joy. Tell me about your stay.” He sits down gracefully.
“My grandfather was called this past year. But so much of my family remains, and it was his time, a release. He has gone to the better place, as must we, one day.”
Her smile folds away, “One day? I feel forsaken, abandoned by God. In my years on Earth I rarely found him, and thought my death – or at the least my second death – would reveal him. And now I will never be Called; perhaps my sole calling was when I was a child.”
“But your family, Sister, do you take relief from being with your family here?”
“Of course…..but I feel I have cursed them as well, for as long as I am remembered, so are they. The permanent memory of me provokes a lesser, but as frustrating, memory of them. They are no more likely to receive the Call than I. I have denied them the better place.”
Their conversation continues, and another Cardinal, Alberto joins them. He and Basil greet each other and the three sit. They are joined in faith here as they were on Earth.
Jane is joined by Alan. His clipped accent and charm are far more welcome than Kennedy’s brusque manner.
“Have you found your dogs, Alan?”
“Have you found your Seth, Jane?”
Side by side, they stand. Alan looks at an invisible horizon beyond the arrivals, Jane into her coffee. The repetition of the place provokes disappointment for a moment. Jane ponders, to herself as much as Alan,
“Do you think the Catholics are right? That there is an answer in the better place?”
“I think you are going to find Seth, and I am going to find Tom and my other dogs.”
Perhaps hope is kind.
“How’s your husband?” He asks, moving to the mundane.
“He’s well. We wonder when his second wife will join us, we joke about it. I imagine you have quite the flock to be reunited with?” she teases.
“All will be well, Jane. My Jane will join me in her own time.” He stiffens. “Shall we sit?”
Clem and Alan sit together often, not just on the anniversary. Friends and team mates in life, they entered the hall twenty-seven years apart. They banter with one another, and Haydn happily referees and laughs along once a year. Their Australian burr carries across the viewing area, and they are too involved in one another to watch much of the action below. Hadyn was a footballer on earth, often regarded as one of the best. But he is modest, almost timid in contrast to the boasting of his compatriots. With just a cigarette paper difference in ability, Hadyn still doesn’t know who’s the better cricketer; or he’s not saying.
Below, the stream from second to third death continues, imperceptibly heavier than the day before. They want to be remembered, memorialised. But for how long? They sit there knowing that this is to be continued.