He knows it's not right, but it felt good. The feeling of finally able to let everything fall off his shoulders, the way the throbbing in his head dissipate like a drop of black ink in water, the relieving sight of stark white blooming in his vision. He had thought that will be the end of everything, but the sight of the familiar landscape roused his insecurity once more, and fear crept up his spine tauntingly.
The sky was a forlorn shade of deep blue and the only thing visible was the hauntingly beautiful full moon that overlooked the barren wasteland. The inky black ground stretched endlessly as he walked on autopilot towards a luminous gangly white tree by a small pond. His ears rang uncomfortably from the silence, and he just wished it would stop as soon as he reached the pond. When it didn't, he knew that what he did was a mistake.
Cheating is bad, they said. That's why games don't provide you with a list of cheat codes to make your game play easier to complete, because that's just not the point of playing a game. You were supposed to love the challenge, to feel the thrill of danger and to express your awe at every surprise you find in every corner. Cheating is bad, because then you'll miss all things beautiful when all you care about is winning the game, when really there's nothing to win. Just the End.
The ringing seemed to grow louder as he neared the pond. The looming naked tree beckoned him closer, commanding him with its eerie prowess. He stopped just a step from the water's edge. He looked at the nearly transparent pond, the water as murky as everything around him – save for the solemn moon that hung tirelessly above everything and the aged white tree across from him. White, the colour of purity, among the colour of corruption – what was it doing there? Like a guide for the lost souls, or possibly just a ghostly reminder of everything he had lost.
He lowered himself to the ground and peered into the dark water. He could see her; the one who had brought him salvation. His savior, cloaked in worn grey cloak with just her thin chapped lips and her pointy chin poking out of the shadow that was her face, laid still in the water, but he could feel her gaze upon him.
He couldn't find his voice. He didn't have an answer.
Not what you wanted? Or is this better than your "home"?
He lifted his head and looked about him. Nothingness. It enveloped him. Suffocating him. When he looked back at the water, the lady saw his uncertainty.
This is what you wished for, what you prayed for. I gave you what you wanted – are you not satisfied?
He opened his mouth and closed it again repeatedly, like a man out of breath. He collected himself, and with a voice lower than a whisper said "This is not what I want."
It isn't, is it? You said you didn't want a life full of suffering; this is the world you want. There's nothing here – no sadness, no anger. No happiness, either.
He shook his head. "I don't want this," he found himself saying, "All I want is to disappear. To feel nothing."
Ah, but you see, there is no such thing as nothing. You can't feel nothing, nor can you see it, hear it or taste it. Nothing does not exist because there is always something. Nothing is just an illusion made by the fallen, made by the hopeless – a false salvation created out of desperation, out of madness. When you imagine nothing, you see black – that is not nothing, because that is black. And white is not nothing either. So you see, there is no such thing as nothing.
"Then…what is this place?" he asked.
This is Nonexistence. In your "home", you are declared nonexistent; as long as you are here, you do not exist.
He held on to that for a while and then thought aloud, "If this is Nonexistence, then where are all the ghosts and aliens? The cryptids, the legends, the myths?"
They do not belong here, because they all exist, therefore they live in Existence. Every living thing lives in Existence – that is the first world you need to live in if you were to simply exist.
"So where is this 'Existence'?" he pondered.
Through this pond. All you have to do is dive in and you'll be in Existence. But why would you ask? Did you not want Nonexistence?
"I thought I'll be going to the afterlife," he admitted.
Foolish thoughts. To go to the afterlife, you'll have to have God's approval. Suicide will not grant you approval, and thus you'll live here until what's left of your soul vanishes into thin air.
"And how long will that take?"
It varies; sometimes hours, sometimes longer than millennia. If you do not want to waste the next hours or millennia waiting for the time for your soul to die off, you should go to Existence.
"Then I shall do that. I already don't like this place," he said.
But to crossover to Existence, your existence must be verified. Someone would have to realise that you exist and not merely a story from a drunkard's mouth. See that tree in front of you? When that tree loses its glow, that means you are not supposed to be in Nonexistence and that you should crossover to Existence. Unfortunately for you, you still have time to spend in Nonexistence.
Just as she finished her sentence, the glowing tree emitted a high-pitched ringing noise, its shine stuttering until it slowly faded to black, just like everything else, save for the moon.
Well, aren't you lucky! First you get to have your petty wish granted, and now you've gained yourself a believer. Hop in, then, before that believer loses their faith in you.
The lady vanished from the lake, leaving him with a reflection of himself and the moon. She said to just dive right in, but he remembered that he had not learnt how to swim in his life ever. He dipped a bony finger into the darkness and felt the icy coldness of it. But he didn't feel it at the same time. Taking is chances, he grasped at the ledge and moved closer towards the pond's surface until this nose was almost touching the surface but not quite. He closed his eyes and slowly, he lowered his face down until his head was engulfed in the water.
What he met on the other side was white. Once he got his eyes adjusted to the sudden change in surroundings, we found that there were also grey hologram-like objects, living and not, moving and not. A grey woman was sitting on a grey chair, just a member of an entire row of the same looking chair. A grey man was sitting next to her, and then he realised that the two people and the row of chairs were in a corridor, and on their right was a grey metal double door with rectangular translucent glass on each door, and a glowing grey symbol was perched dully just above the metal double door. There was no more ringing in the white place but it was replaced by a comfortable buzzing of life.
He realised that he was just a head poking out of the ground. Gingerly, he lifted the rest of his body out of the pool of liquid and then sat himself down by the woman's feet. There was no pond or any sign of any liquid on the ground once he toes were exposed to the white realm.
He stood up and surveyed the walking people he could see from the end of the corridor, most wearing a long coat or some kind of plain uniform and carrying a clipboard or any other kind o equipment. He was tempted to go out and explore, but the set of doors did a better job of luring him in. Something about those doors attracted him towards it, maybe the sense of longing it hid from behind them, or maybe the sense of…regret it was emitting. Hesitantly, he reached out for the door, but he found his arm going right through it instead.
"So I'm a ghost now, huh?" he said to himself. Gaining confidence, he walks right through the door and was met with an unpleasant sight. And what was meant by unpleasant was a mixture of sad, regretful and relief.
He could see himself, fixed up to many tubes and wires which led to various machines that flashed their beady eyes, indicating that indeed he still exists. Many people with jellyfish-like hair and covered faces worked on the machines and did various tests on his body, just to make sure he was well and recovering. He could the glow of their happiness, their satisfaction in saving a stranger's life, something that he would certainly never feel. The people were still busy doing their check-ups when a gust blew behind him, signaling her return.
You do realise that because of you, you have cost many people time.
He nodded. "I can see that. However, I can't feel the things I am supposed to feel."
Then what can you feel?
"All the feelings I can feel is regarding myself, but sometimes – like right now – I can't seem to feel anything. I don't even feel the dread and what other feelings I should feel when I look at my own battered body, lying helplessly just a foot away from me."
That is because you haven't lived in all of the worlds you need to live in, yet.
"Worlds?" he asked, "What do you mean?"
In order to live the life you had, your soul needs to live in seven different worlds at the same time. The first is Existence, a world that things live in just to be recognised. The second is Realm of Space and Time; once you're there, you need to obey the laws of space and time –
As if on cue, the white room froze and he was transported to a hall, so vast and spacious, with rows of desks and chairs housing many grey people. Hundreds – no, thousands – no, there were billions of these grey people as well as the desks and chairs. People of all ages were writing, and writing and writing and writing, writing all sorts of things onto their books, which seemed to have an infinite amount of pages. The people lifted their heads up at the same time for a few seconds before they resume to their writing, and this pattern continued on forever. He turned around and saw a gigantic blackboard, a blackboard so big that even when he craned his neck he couldn't really see the top. The gigantic blackboard also stretched out to the sides, and at that moment he realised that these billions of people were copying all of the writings and formulae that were written upon the massive blackboard. The laws of Space and Time, he concluded.
All of these people are obeying the laws of space and time. They will only stop writing when their time is up, when they don't need to obey them anymore. As you can see, some people write slowly and less than some; this is because some people tend to be more knowledgeable than others. However, once you've signed the agreement here –
He was teleported to a desk with a motionless man. The man – which was him – had his hand poised to write on the cover of the book, where there was a line below the words "I thereby agree to live by the laws of time and space. Here signed:"
– you are automatically a servant under the laws. All you have to do from this point onwards is learn.
"Learn?" he echoed.
Learn, my boy. Knowledge. But Knowledge is the fifth world that you have to live in, so by living in the second world you are also living in the fifth. But by living in Knowledge does not make you live in Emotions and Feelings, because that realm – the sixth realm – is not connected to Knowledge. Now then, will you sign this?
He looked at the book. It looked like a normal book; a stack of papers sandwiched between two covers and kept upright with a spine. But he needed to sign this in order to continue, right? So he might as well do. "I agree, then," he said, and then the motionless arm of his other self moved his fingers rigidly and wrote on the line across the page, in neat handwriting with black ink pen, his name: Joseph Paine.
Within the blink of an eye, he was transported back to the white realm. The jellyfish people were still going over the machines and his unmoving but breathing body. Then, a man among them, a middle-aged man with glasses, removed his mask to move his mouth and nodded at the door. The others looked at one another before nodding, something that served as a signal for the glasses man to exit the room.
He followed the man outside and saw the previous woman and man listen with rapt attention to whatever the glasses man had to say. It seemed that whatever it was, it made the woman ten times happier, but it didn't stop the waterfall that were her eyes to stop flowing. The man closed his eyes and uttered something before flopping down wearily at a nearby chair. The glasses man talked some more before he returned to the room, now instructing a few of his crew to do some preparations of some sort.
The third world is this one you are currently seeing – the Third Dimension, the Physical World. In order to fully enjoy the gifts of life, it is fully recommended to live in the Third Dimension. Some spirits, like the jinns, cannot live in the Third Dimension, but even so we can still feel their presence; this is what leads to the stories about ghosts and what not. Some special people get to see the living things that do not live in the Third Dimension, but because this power is not so common among people many had dismissed these gifted ones as madmen. Maybe I'll consider giving you the ability to communicate with those outside the Third Dimension.
"Why would you do that?"
Something about you draws me in, child. Now quit wasting time – you will live in the Third Dimension, and you shall be grateful for my help once more. However, my good deeds never come cheap.
"What do you mean?" He was starting to feel like this was not a good idea in the first place. Of course, why would he listen to a cloaked stranger in the first place? Oh wait, he's never rational to begin with, anyway.
I've decided to make your resurrection…amusing, to say the least. I guess I'll make you earn your living with labour; you'll have to serve me in order to live in the other worlds. I've let you live in three worlds now – the part I said about the fifth world, consider it a bonus from me, since you'll need all the knowledge you have. Once you are in the third world, you will have to obey my commands in order to be fully human again.
He didn't think it was a bad idea – a quest would make his life all the more lively, not bleak like the previous one. Unhesitant, he said "Fine by me, madam. I shall start as soon as I am reborn, then."
A grin blooms ominously across the woman's grim face.
Very well. I pray you good luck, Joseph.