Binta couldn’t be sure when delirium ended and death began. Fevered and dehydrated, she’d been walking for days, carrying her son, trying to reach safety. She’d reserved all the water she carried for her son, even as her lips cracked, her eyes sunk, and her tears stopped flowing. She stumbled, she fell, but she kept getting back up.
She finally saw the cluster of buildings on the horizon, saw people standing about them, all shimmering behind the haze of heat. She mustered everything she had left to get to them.
But they never got any closer.
She walked. She walked until she no longer saw safety on the horizon. She walked until sand gave away to swaying fields of wheat. She walked until the sun’s brutality was turned away by cool winds. She walked until her legs stopped aching. She walked until her thirst left her. She walked until she no longer held her son.
Binta suddenly became aware of all of these changes, but before she could react to any of them she saw an old man sitting atop a boulder in front of her and she stopped walking.
“My… my son. I was carrying my son. Where is my son?!”
“He is safe, Binta. You went as far as you had to. Now you are here.”
“How do you know my name? How do you know that my son is safe? Where is here? Who are you?”
The old man held his hands up, as if to ward off her string of questions.
“I was a man named Enmei. I was a monk before. But that doesn’t matter now. I know your name and I know your son is safe because I know everything.” He gestured to the fields around him. “Here is a place between, a place where few travel.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that you are dead, Binta.”
Binta stood mutely for a few moments. “So, you know my son is safe? You’re certain?”
“Yes, he will live. He will have a hard life, but he will live.”
Binta closed her eyes and sighed with relief. “You said few travel to this place. What did you mean?”
“Most souls never come here because they don’t need to.” He paused, as if to consider. “I suppose it would be more accurate to say that they don’t come here because they are not needed. You see, Binta, I am God, and I am too weary to carry on.”
“You’re God? How can you be weary then? Why did you say that you were a man before?”
“I was a man. And I am not God as you imagine. I know everything because it is my burden to know. I have no power though. Power is for the living. My role is merely to carry the weight of knowing. It is a heavy burden to bear, like carrying the world on my shoulders… I suppose that’s essentially what I am doing. I can’t tell you how glad I am that you are here.”
“I still don’t understand.”
“You are my successor. I am ready to move on and rest. You are fresh and you have the qualities needed for this role. Self-sacrificing. Self-denying. Selfless. Patient. Enduring.”
Binta scoffed. “You can’t be serious. How could I do this? I am nobody.”
“You are exactly the right person. There are no mistakes. This is not necessarily a job for someone who was powerful, wealthy, or educated. This knowledge is not borne upon the mind, but upon the soul. Yours is strong, stronger than even you believe. You should be able to bear the weight for quite some time”
“How long have you carried it?”
“Though this place is essentially timeless, I died ten years before you. Ten years is all I can take. Make no mistake though, it is an essential task. The two fundamental aspects of existence are power and knowledge. The living are potential and power. Collectively, they are power. The dead are power spent. We are experience. We are knowledge. Though each soul possesses a piece of knowledge, it falls upon one to know everything.”
“Do I have a choice?”
He shook his head. “Choice is power. Choice is for the living. Knowledge accepts what it must. The truth is, I cannot do this and you can. The truth is that someone must.”
Enmei slid off the boulder and patted it. “Go ahead Binta. Someone will relieve you when you cannot possibly go on any longer. Then you can rest.”
Enmei turned around and padded away. Binta sat down.
As soon as she did, the weight of the world fell upon her shoulders, all of its woes and tragedies, all of the injustice, all of the terror and disgust and hopelessness and hatred and regret and secrets and darkness. It was crushing her.
But then there was a light and she fixed upon it. She saw her son in a bed, sleeping peacefully, safe and alive. He was potential, and even though Binta could now see the hardships that Enmei had alluded to, she also saw days of happiness, of love and comfort and contentment. She saw hope. Though she could see his road, he could not, and that made all the difference.
She was now flooded with laughter and happiness and justice and peace and acceptance and hope and love and contentment and truth and light. It was sustaining her.
Between the two was a place that was bearable, a place somewhere between potential and experience, between life and death. It was a place few walked, but one must.
This is another Flash Fiction writing challenge from Chuck Wendig’s blog. The challenge was to generate a title by rolling a d20 twice and pulling from two lists of twenty words. I got “Ten-year” and “God.” This was difficult for me, mostly because I was trying to patch together a semi-coherent afterlife system in under 1000 words. Not resoundingly successful in that aspect.