Copyright© Connard Wellingham 2007
Warning. I'm not in a good mood. This story is an antidote to all the feel-good second chance stories that are around just now. It is bitter and cynical and some may find it offensive. DO NOT write and tell me if you find it so. You have been warned!
The voice was deep and resonant and slightly mechanical, as if it wasn't entirely human.
"Geoffrey Alan Carver," it said.
I opened my eyes to... nothingness. It wasn't grey, it wasn't white, it wasn't black, or blue or green or pink or any other colour; it was... nothing. There wasn't an up or a down or a left or a right or a North or a South; there was... nothing. There was no heat or cold or pain or pleasure or any other sensation. I felt neither hunger nor thirst and no aches and pains, and for that, at least, I was grateful. In fact I felt... nothing.
I knew I was dead. I had known I was dying before it happened. I had had a moment's awareness and opened my eyes to see my son and daughter being comforted by their respective spouses. I could not see my wife but she may have been on the other side of the bed and I was too weak to turn my head so I gave her the benefit of the doubt.
I looked at my grown-up children, standing at my bedside looking so concerned, and my heart filled with love and pride. They had turned out all right, despite my parenting. They were bright and energetic and kind and generous and pleasant and gregarious and seemed to have neither inherited nor acquired any of my character flaws. For that I was exceedingly grateful. I wanted to tell them not to worry; that I was fine and my torment would soon be over and they should file me under 'Memories: Dad' and get on with their lives, but my mouth was refusing to respond to my brain. It was probably all these damned drugs the damned doctors kept pumping into me. I should be grateful. The drugs had at least kept the worst of the pain at bay and the doctors had done their best.
I felt a pinpoint of blackness start somewhere deep inside like a black hole. It expanded rapidly and I knew my time was close. I don't know how I did but I did. The thought that I would soon be dead filled me with a mixture of relief and regret: relief that the long months of pain and suffering would soon be over and my family could at last get on with the lives they had put on hold when my illness had been diagnosed as fatal, and regret for all the things I could have done with my life but didn't; for all the experiences I could have had but hadn't and for all the good I could have done but didn't. I tried to stretch out my hand and feel the comfort of their touch one last time. Memorable dying speeches were beyond me but I tried to croak out one final goodbye. I have no idea if I succeeded for the ultimate darkness swept up from behind me and engulfed me in its deep, silent, eternal, black cloak.
"Geoffrey Alan Carver," the voice said again.
"Yes?" I managed to reply, or did I just think it. Having no mouth or tongue or palate or throat or lungs, I suppose I must have thought it.
"Good. You are with us."
"Where am I?"
Wherever I was it didn't seem to be like any sort of heaven or hell I had ever heard of or read about. On the other hand, perhaps this was, indeed, hell for what could be worse that spending eternity in the ultimate of sensory deprivation?
"You are in limbo."
"Limbo! I thought that was just an invention of the Catholics?"
"You are not a Catholic." It was more a statement than a question.
"Limbo is real, as far as anything is. Anyway, the Catholic Church did away with the concept of Limbo some time ago."
"Oh, I didn't know that." This was surreal in the extreme. I was newly dead and discussing comparative theology with a disembodied voice. "Are you God?"
The voice almost chuckled. "No. But you can think of me as He. Are you a Christian?"
"Moslem? Jew? Bhuddist? Wiccan? Taoist? Believe in Zeus, Odin, Karl Marx, Heidegger, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy?"
"No. I never did go much on organised religion. Sorry."
"Don't be. Makes it easier if I don't have to fight my way through a morass of misconceptions. Do you believe in God at all?"
"If you mean an old man with a white beard and long hair staring benevolently, or otherwise, down from the sky... no."
"Is this the afterlife, then?"
"Good Heavens, no." The voice laughed, an eerie and distinctly unpleasant sound. "Good Heavens... dearie me. Sometimes I amaze myself." It seemed more than taken with the cleverness of its wit.
"And... ?" I said in an attempt to halt the disagreeable noise.
"If this is not the afterlife, what is it?"
"I thought I had already explained; this is Limbo."
"You did. Sorry. A better question would be; why am I here and what happens now?"
"That's two questions."
"So? Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition."
"Spanish Inquisition?" It sounded genuinely puzzled. "What do that group if imbecilic, homicidal maniacs have to do with it?"
I wanted to shrug which is not easy when you have no body. "Never mind. It's not important. Could you please answer my questions?" Clearly the voice had never watched Monty Python.
"Harumph. Yes. Well, you have been chosen by sophisticated random sampling techniques to be offered a unique and outstanding opportunity. It is an opportunity offered to only a select few. A golden opportunity to turn over a new leaf, start on a fresh page, wipe the slate clean. I cannot stress how fortunate you are to be given this wonderful chance."
He was beginning to sound like an advert for a time-share in Florida. I couldn't resist it. "You mean you pulled my name out of a hat."
If a disembodied voice could be said to sound sheepish, this one did. "Well... yes."
"What's more your opportunity can't be unique if you offer it to others."
"It's unique to you." It sounded distinctly huffy. "So, are you interested?"
"You haven't told me what it is, yet."
"The opportunity to go back and live your life again."
"You what? What sort of an offer is that?"
"It's a magnificent offer; a golden opportunity to re-live your..."
"Yes. Yes. Enough of the hard sell. What's the point? I mean why would I want to re-live my life again?"
"You might do things differently next time around," it said eagerly. "That's part of the Experiment. To see if all factors in a human's life are programmed or if there are random factors involved."
"I don't follow you."
"Take an example," it was sounding enthusiastic now. "Say, in your past life, you were walking down a street and you saw a sign saying, 'Vacancies. Apply within.' You went in and you were offered your dream job which led to you becoming rich and successful. Now, in your next life, would you see the sign? Would you go in? Would you accept the job? You see what I'm driving at?"
"To be frank, no. If my life and circumstances the second time around were exactly the same as they were the first time, I would behave in exactly the same way. It couldn't be any other way."
"Yes, but what would happen if, say, a seagull shit in your eye just as you were passing the notice? You wouldn't see it and you wouldn't go in. Your life would take a completely different track."
"Other than the fact that the seagull wasn't there in my first life so it couldn't be in my second, it wouldn't be my life, it would be someone else's."
"No it wouldn't. I mean, yes, it would. Now you're getting me confused. You would still be Geoffrey Alan Carver."
"But I wouldn't be me. I would be another be Geoffrey Alan Carver. If you were to pick that name from your celestial hat again, it would be a different person that was talking to you now, not me." I was beginning to enjoy this. I always did enjoy a good intellectual debate.
"But it wouldn't matter. You would still be Geoffrey Alan Carver."
"So, a rose by any other name..."
"Shakespeare." I sighed. "You've not read any Shakespeare either, I gather."
"No. What is a shakespeare?"
"Never mind. It may not matter to you that the Geoffrey Alan Carver you meet the second time around is not me but it matters to me."
"No buts. Your proposition to send me back to relive my life exactly as it was before holds no attraction for me."
"But it might be better?"
"Or it could be a damn sight worse."
It sighed. If anything that was worse than the laughter.
"Wait a moment. There's something bothering me," I said and paused to let whatever it was trickle to the surface. "Got it. This is some sort of joke, isn't it? Some sort of celestial 'Candid Camera' or 'Punk'd'. You're not really God, you're the heavenly equivalent of Jeremy Beadle. My God, you're not actually Jeremy Beadle, are you?"
"I can assure you I am not Jeremy Beadle, whoever he is?"
"That's a relief. But I still think this is some kind of absurd practical joke. What you're proposing is nonsense. This whole conversation is a load of nonsense. When I'm born again, I won't remember anything of my first life and I won't remember this conversation. I will be exactly as I was the first time around. It will be as if my first life never happened. That being so my second life will travel exactly the path as my first. Maybe even it has and this is the second or third or umpteenth time we've had this conversation."
"I hope not."
.... There is more of this story ...