Sooner or Later
The jungle was dense and sweet-smelling. If he ever got hungry, the astronaut mused that the fleshy leaves of the predominant vegetation would serve as a decent meal, but he must have been in shock from the crash—it had been days and he wasn’t hungry. He didn’t remember where or when he’d taken off his shoes, but he realized now how soothing the moist grass felt between his toes. Any kind of solid ground would have felt heavenly after those months floating weightlessly around in the capsule, but this reminded him of his boyhood summers; his delicate little feet, before they became calloused by manhood, on the grass of his grandfather’s land in Maine, chasing seagulls from the yard to the beach.
He pushed a cluster of leaves apart and peered into a clearing. He saw vividly in the night a luminescent pool reflecting blue and white in the moonlight. He approached the pool without caution, suddenly thirsty.
“Hmpf!” he exclaimed to his reflection in the water as he rubbed his chin. “No beard.” He splashed water onto his face and into his mouth. It was cool and sweet, better than any water back on Earth.
He closed his eyes and smiled. He was then flushed with an undeniable suspicion that someone else was in the clearing. He opened his eyes to discover a shadow at the far end of the pond.
He stood. “Hello! Is someone there?” He laughed. “This isn’t Star Trek; they wouldn’t know English,” he scolded himself aloud for his lapse into idiocy. The shadow shifted and was gone. He figured the moonlight was playing tricks on his eyes.
Moments later, he felt something; far too vague at first to place the sensation, but it grew into a rumble under his feet that rose up toward his belly and through to his temples. The ground beneath him grew brighter. It took on colors like an aurora. The light grew more intense, knocking him down. It traveled through him up into the sky and settled into the pond. His ears filled with sound—like the light, inaudible at first save a faint vibration, but it swelled into a sound so lovely it made him weep. Encompassed in this sound were the voices of everyone he’d ever known; every song he ever heard; every instrument known to man and some far too complex and beautiful to ever be manipulated by clumsy human hands.
In the sound were words, most definitely not English, yet his mind and his soul understood them. “Hello.”
“Hello,” he gasped, and chuckled a little at the simplicity of the greeting as he wiped the tears from his eyes.
There was a silence, then the music spoke to him again: “What is ‘God’?”
He was taken aback. The entity had read his mind. Moments before he had asked himself silently, Is this God?
“It’s hard to explain,” he explained, but he knew it was getting a detailed description from his thoughts.
“We understand,” it chimed, then paused. The light dimmed briefly. “You are not like us.”
“I see that,” the astronaut whispered. “What...what are you?”
Again the light flickered. “We are...everything.”
I don’t understand. After his mind uttered the phrase, the scenery changed. First it blurred and became brighter, took on the color and density of the entity itself. Then the light faded and the astronaut found himself lying on the beach in Maine on a cool day in early summer, the water lapping at his ankles. The scenery fazed out and in again, and he was in bed with Julia, rubbing her swollen belly. She moved his hand toward her navel, where he felt a soft thump. But it was vague, the memory of her stomach. There was no substance to it.
“Stop this!” he screamed and was back in the clearing, the light draining from all around him back into the water. “Get out of my head!”
The light dimmed again, more so than before. “That is anger. We were unaware of it.”
“Well you’re aware of it now, aren’t you?!” He began to start away, but it seemed that even the moon grew dark. He knew instinctively that the entity only wanted to make him happy; that it was incapable of anything else. He stood with his back to the pond, forgiving it silently, as his mind drifted to Julia.
“What is death?” the music inquired after a long silence. The astronaut remembered her hair. His wife had a halo of curls that bounced around her ears, so black that in the right light they took on a blue tint. Then he remembered her in the hospital, the bandana slipping too high on her forehead. He remembered holding her hand as her eyes closed... “Oh.” It knew now what death was. “We do not like that sensation.” The being meant the sadness that choked his throat shut.
“Yeah, well, neither do I.” There was another long pause. The light shifted in quality.
“Paul?” a voice—a real voice called to him, a hand fell on his shoulder and he felt its weight. Julia turned him to face her.
“Are you real?” He could only whisper.
“Yes, Paul,” she assured. He touched her hair.
“They’re everything, Paul. That includes us.” He looked back at the pond as his wife took his hand. He knew he was gazing at living energy; what humanity has grown to call the soul.
He turned back to Julia and her eyes were troubled. “What is it?”
“There’s something we should show you,” she answered. At the same moment he was with her and miles away. He was at the capsule, looking at himself lying in the wreckage. But he felt no pain. Part of him knew all along.
“What do I do now?” he whispered.
“Jump in,” she smiled. And he was standing on the jetty at his grandfather’s beach, a child again and yet still a man, looking down at Julia in the water, her freckled face beaming back at him. “Jump in, Paul! Come on! Paul!”
And so he did.