This story is the slightly mongrelly child of a flippant remark G. K. Chesterton made in passing, and a vague ‘wonder’ I’ve had for a while.
The local friendly English teacher says it’s quite dark, and she reads Elie Wiesel for heaven’s sake (highly recommended, btw) so perhaps not good bedtime reading.
And I dream. I was told as a child that dreams are free, but this is a lie. Many are the nights I would have bartered away all I hold dear – for a dream. For light and life within the suffocating black grip of sleep.
Yet tonight, I dream.
My soul walks in tentative blind steps down a glass-smooth stone tunnel. Reaching the end, I find myself in a broad grassy plain, bordered by quiet whispering forests of yews. To my left and my right stand two great gates, silver and ebony, opposite each other. The silver gates glitter with a fierce purity in the warm sunlight of the plain, glitter so brightly I screw my eyes shut in pain and turn away.
I enter instead at the ebony gates, which are gentle dull black. Within it is cool and dim, though I see a faint red glow in the distance, eons’ journey ahead. Behind me, the gates close with muffled finality, and I walk on unafraid.
There is a smell in the air as of hot sand, or hot stone. I follow the familiar scent until the scene changes. Now close at either hand are long white tables, glowing faintly in the darkness and stretching away before me. For many paces, I walk on, and they are empty.
Then, abruptly, standing beside the table to my left, is the man who first thought he could control me. I hated him. He does not speak, but falls behind and follows me. Now the tables are full and overflowing onto the floor. I recognize things: the pen that broke, the book that bored me, the knife that cut my hand.
More people join us: the boy who bullied me throughout my childhood and so earned my hatred, the children I despised for thinking me a fool, the man my mother loved – and rejected for my sake. I see the gadget that never quite worked, the ball that split, the tree I could never climb.
I see the men who killed my mother. They were like animals, and I slaughtered them like animals. I hated them. They, too, fall into step behind me. Now the objects flood thicker, so that I must clamber over them.
I have journeyed for years, and at last I see before me the red glow that is my objective. I begin to tremble, but I cannot stop walking. And then I see: between me and that final, glorious oblivion stands the man. He who taught me, who was father and brother to me, and friend when I had no other.
Once I thought he had betrayed me, and I was enraged. I told my friend I hated him and I wanted him never to darken my sight again. He complied. Later I learned I was wrong: he was faithful to the end. But it was too late.
Terrified, I fall to my knees. For many leagues now, I have known. This place is the end of everything, the final destruction, absolute death.
“Why are you here?” I ask of my friend. He stands still, his white shirt vivid against the fire. Calm and gentle and terribly, terribly tired, he answers me at last.
“You sent me here.” He points to the silent crowd who follow me. “You sent them all here.”
And then I see what my hatred throughout my life has wrought, and I would fall on my face and beg my friend’s forgiveness, but I wake.
And I cannot reverse what I have done.
But it was only a dream.