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Short Story

After Rapture (short story)

Placed just over the shoulder of our man, the man whose perspective will imbue this story with any poignancy it may transmit, we see him reenter the company of his fellow man after a long departure. Where was he? We don’t know. At this point, we don’t even know who he is, though we do hope to discover more about him very soon.

He is nonchalant, maybe even happy. You get the feeling that perhaps if no one was around he would be skipping and clipping his heals. Maybe this sense of exuberance is not as marked as it would immediately seem, since the utter despair firmly imprinted on the faces of all those people surrounding him sets a somber scene in which our protagonist is most definitely an outlier: a flash of color in a secondary corner of some monochrome scene.

Not noticing the melancholic sea he is lithely flying above, our man keeps making his merry way: even going so far as to be jubilantly tipping his hat to the elder women that he passes. Is he rude? I don’t think so. He seems to just be lost in his thoughts. However, his rapture does not exclude his merriment being noticeable by others, and there is a palpable feel of malcontent percolating through the crowd bordering our man.

Eventually, after one too many ‘hellos’ with a bit of a wink, an elder gentleman confronts our man. He asks why he is happy. In fact he goes “Why are you so happy?” Except he said it in a manner both more cutting and more formal.

Our man seems unperturbed, not thinking anything of this incursion into his privacy. Our man said something along the lines of he was happy just because it was a beautiful day, and in his opinion there was no reason to not be happy. He said that he hoped he hadn’t done anything to offend the elder gentleman.

The older gentleman was emotional. Restrained, yes, but more emotional then such a simple statement could propagate. He was mumbling those words to himself that our man had just recited: no reason not to be happy; no reason not to be happy; no reason not to be happy.

This scene is not a normal scene. There is something off that is not impossible to describe, but just difficult. The scene is normal, just an average street scene, likely on a weekday; the day is even wondrous for its summer charm: flowers blooming, blue skies, and that sublime smell of fresh cut grass. No, it is the people infecting this scene with a noxious air: a hollowness to their eyes, a leadenness to their step. They are broken. Standing side by side to our man, it is very much the difference between seeing Dorothy entering Oz for the first time, radiating color and playfulness, and beside her the bleakness of depression era Kansas bathed in black and white. Our man is alive, but no more alive than any other of that endless yet endlessly joyous breed of people. No, the problem is not in our mans joy, or even in the sourness of the crowd around him. No, it is  the fact that our man is the only joyous one. Where in the normal spectrum our man is represented by an entire range, here, in the spectrum of this crowd, that entire range is missing; all the shades that would normally be represented by this shade are missing too. There is an absence of joy, of even that which has one upon a time touched joy.

The elder gentleman is emotional. Our man is unhappy of causing this. Not unhappy as a person, or with himself, simply with this situation. The syntax of this story may become difficult. Our man tells the elder gentleman that his words mean nothing, that he was just joking around. Inside the head of our man there is confusion. He is unsure of what he said cause this drama, maybe there was an offhand remark that this elder gentleman is taking out of context, maybe there is some meaning to his words that he did not connote when he constructed the sentence. He wished to make it very clear that he wished nothing but good cheer, kindness and respect towards this elder gentleman, yet, much to our mans consternation, it seemed that the more he tried to communicate his kindness the more the elder gentleman became disconcerted. Finally, abruptly, the elder gentleman gathered control of himself. He looked our man right in the eye, and said a thanks for the kindness, but that the kindness was undeserved. Then, he said something startling, that he, our elder gentleman, did not deserve any such kindness. And that he would have thought by this late date that our man would have realized the futility of expressing such empty kindnesses. Then, after a balefully remorseful glare, the elder gentleman turned on heal, perhaps he was once in the military, and paraded in the crowd.

Releasing a general sigh of relief, the crowd feeling that this anomaly that had broken its immersion has been exterminated carried back along with the busy nothing of living a life one responsibility at a time. However, the equilibrium was still perturbed: where before it was our mans exuberance disturbing the crowd, now it was the crowds complacency towards the bizarre scene with the elder gentleman that was perturbing our man. He was standing still, where the old man left him. He was not in shock, but rather seemed to be replaying the preceding scene in his mind, trying to put a puzzle together that he was not sure he had all the pieces too. Why had the man said he did not deserve kindness? Why had he questioned the sincerity of his remarks? His confusion was radiating into the crowd, subliminally attempting to catch the help of another, but now that our mans anomalous character had been checked it seemed that the crowd had stonewalled his existence.

He continued walking. The farther he went, the stranger the world. People were universally dismal, this he now noticed, and the air of despair was trying to invade his soul. His genuine good cheer was still strong, keeping the melancholy at bay, yet he was now conscious of the lack of a resonance similar to his own in the wake of his walk. Where was the happiness, where was the exuberance of life that need not be universal but one would hope may make a butterfly out of another kindred soul in all of this. Answers flooded our mans mind: maybe there was a loss of a particularly hoped for sporting event, perhaps there had been the death of some famous personage. Our man was aware that he had been away from society for some time. The world can change.

An easy solution could of course rectify this entire confusion! And our man, brave in ways such as this, bit back the bile that all brave men fight through and blatantly fished for the eyes of a casual walker by. He made his stare unavoidable; he was ignored. Then, he was even more brave and lightly touched the sleeve of a young girl walking by. She had large innocent eyes. They caught his, and she was his, though one wonders to what extent this casual engagement was a breach of some subliminal social etiquette. Was our man a bad man maybe whispers through our mind. After all, we do not know him well yet, and watching a happy man be happy gives little insight into the sort of things that might supply his pleasure. We all have our secrets, and we will let our man have his for now. But right now, we must deal with this young girl. If it makes a difference she is lovely, as only the almost full bloomed flower can be. Let’s get to her. Let’s stop keeping our man and this young girl waiting.

“What has happened to make everyone sad, to make the world grey on such a sunny day?” Our man asked with his eyes while phonetically inquiring if this young girl knew the way to a certain park that I’m not sure existed. Our girl looked at her feet and said some response that may have been a truth to one or both of the answers, yet, was tragically so soft the words were lost even before they left her lips, let alone before they travelled through that treacherous void of space and entered our mans ear. He of course said “pardon” except he didn’t. He saw a scene, a scene I have no problem admitting I have never seen, one which our man could not ignore, and which this young girl could not pass off with a mumbled breath either.

The scene was this, or close to this. Our man and this young girl had come to a busy intersection with some form of parade on it. Bisecting our mans street, the multitude of the parade like gathering marched perpendicularly in front of them. Maybe I can give this scene a color: it is green. Does that make a difference? The parade is ramshackle, like that which suddenly apparates around the murdered body of an innocent in war. Indeed, there was even a body at the centre of this beast, yet instead of worshiping the fear of death, it was a newborn in a hamper who was being deified. Wearing pink swaddling clothes and a blue bonnet the newborn was wailing loudly for a mother who was far away or refusing to gift comfort. The crowd walked with the enfant lacked boisterousness; rather, this was a parade with a serious agenda: a parade that meant something to each of its participants. The seriousness of this scene was undeniable. People coming from our mans street had fixated gazes to the innocent wailing child. Many persons consciously joined the throng and others or were so lost in the sight of the enfant that unaware of the motivations of their feet became active participants to the parade. This scene meant something.

Our man watched the unfolding with a sense of wonder entirely different then the cultish worship that everyone else bestowed upon the scene. He did not join the adoring throngs, nor did he stare captivated and lost at the scene; rather, he went back to looking at this young girl, who was staring at our young man with a questioning gaze which implied something which this narrator at this point is unable to communicate.

She gave him a look questioning his confusion. He gave her a look of questioning, and made a motion to touch this young girls hand before shying away. She asked him in no certain terms why was he so confused. He answered in very confused terms that he was nothing but confused, and suggested by the terms that reality was constructed in his interpretation of the world anybody would be confused. He also added that he had not been in society for a few days, and he mentioned this particularly thorny subject in a manner which would not suggest anything but a plausible excuse for the normalized chaos confronting him.

This girl looked at our man with those large eyes, those eyes that were undergoing a sea change from hostility and questioning to one of understanding. She said, “oh” and that the last few days were transformational in the world, that she did not know where to begin, did not know if she was the right person to even begin telling our man of the devilry that had saturated the world in recent days. But, she said, she would do her best. She took a breath, rubbed, her elbow, fidgeted for a microsecond. Then, she met our mans eyes, asked him to give her time to give a story known to the universe but not to our man in a manner uninterrupted, then, upon an accepting nod from our man she began a recital which I don’t think our man broke once. However, for clarification of scene, they did gradually drift to a spot more off the street from where their conversation was initially instigated.

“I was walking down the street, six days ago. Well, and this sounds stupid, but, well, it is not stupid, it is what happened. Rapture. Yes, like in the Christian bible. No, please, don’t look cynical, I am not reciting to you any of my beliefs, simple the reality of what has happened. You see that the world is different: think that I am joking? Ask any of these others if my words are true. Please, if you want the truth, trust me, I am no liar, no matter what sins I have committed. Rapture happened. I was walking down the street when suddenly, just like the evangelicals prophesied, certain people walking past me on the road began to levitate. A light imbued them much like they were a mild sun sprouting rays in all directions. Suddenly, with a noise like a mixture of an amen and a thunderclap, various people were being awarded haloes. There was no question that this could be anything but rapture: the bringing to heaven of the worthy by a just god in the last days. I was..I was not an unbeliever, yet, there was no doubt that the beliefs I held were wrong, that all the other religions were wrong, that science was wrong: just like the depictions in those stained glass windows that you have seen in every church, or on so many cheap postcards, here was the reality. Cynicism be damned, it was just like the sermons promised”

“Myself, I have considered myself to have lived a good life. I was by no means perfect, but I believe that I lived a fruitful life, the sort of life that the secret god of my heart that I prayed to would have thought valid, valuable, and soulful. During rapture, people were not ascending simultaneously. Rather, there were gaps between some and others. Maybe there was some hierarchical list to which some angel was calling in descending order. I waited, thinking I would be called. I watched many around me both ascend, and wait for ascension. Many times I thought the light had chosen me, that the thunderclap of amen had spoken for me, and I would look above my head to see that there was no halo and look below to see that I was not levitating. I waited in this state of frantic anticipation for a substantial amount of time, until much like one cannot ignore the rise of the sun once it has reached noon I had to acknowledge that I was not one of the chosen. The knighting  had stopped hours ago. There was still a multitude, truly, a vast majority of us non alighted standing on the street. Some of us collapsed on the street. Some of us cried. Some of us continued standing, waiting for something that was emphatically not coming. Me, myself, I just stood staring. I may have cried, or I may have smiled, I don’t know, but what I do know is that the thought so firmly entrapped in my skull was ‘what did I do wrong? Why was I not one of the chosen? How did any god see me as a sinner? What did I do wrong? Had I not lived a good life?’ My brain was flooding, weeping, transforming. Yes, I am speaking incoherently, but please understand that I have not shared this with anyone. I wish I had not shared it with you, it burns me so deeply; but the words have been said and I want to follow them through. You see, what the truth is that I am a sinner. I am a sinner. I have had the examination of my life marked. It did not suffice. I am a bad woman, a monster in the eyes of the creator whom irrefutably exists. I am a monster. That despair you feel weighing in the air is the acknowledgment sprouting from all of us left behind that yes: we are all sinners. And you, my friend, the one we’ve decided to call ‘our man’ you are a sinner too. You are still here, yes? Let your jubilation be finished. Appreciate the despair that is within the rest of us left, your fellow sinners. You have failed. You did not pass gods tests. You are a sinner, hated by god, doomed to whatever truth there is to the wretched idea of hell. Join us all, waiting to discover hell, realizing wretchedly that if god has taken those he loves to heaven, then what has he for his unchosen?” And this girl was stammering, speaking faster, impassioned, even gesticulating with a infusion of drama which was of an entirely different tone of the bright joyfulness of our man and the drab grayness of the other.

Brightness still infused our man. The wretched news of this girl entered his heart, yet for reasons as of yet he could not communicate he did not feel the self abhorrence that was clearly the dutifully directed point of this girl. They stared at each other for some moments, short or long in time not meaningful because it lasted just the length of time that it needed to, this girl bug eyed trying to break the news of our mans sinning nature, and, then, our man staring balefully at this girl with eyes that were very emphatically devoid of the despair which this girl very much thought would fill our man. What was there in his eyes? I don’t know yet, am not even sure if they really contained anything, maybe the news had so surely shattered the man that there was nothing, just the screen saver of that joy that so recently permeated them laying an opaque screen disguising the vast tracts of nothing that this news had decimated our mans mind into. Yet, this was not the case. No. No what was here, or there, time slipping in such an ephemeral pace that what is and what was is difficult to grab a hold to, no, what was there in our mans eyes was something that this girl did not expect to see: continued joy. You could still say that if he was moving, alone, that he might be skipping: maybe even clicking his heels.

How could this be? It was a question that clearly confused this girl, clearly confused myself your narrator, and indeed even confused our man. He was standing being thoughtful. The thoughts behind his eyes I wish I could jump into but their current was running so fast that it would be dangerous to jump in mid process: who knows what mental rocks might be exposed, what mistruths might be realized passing by at such speeds. No, we must wait for our man to come to certain epiphanies, to show himself in his dynamism in his ability to change in front our eyes, or even more truthfully to remain static, to retain that awe filled merriment that resonates in his every step: to communicate the joys of his existence despite the harrowing despair that sought to invade his heart.

He said to this girl that he was not an evil man. He said that confusion filled him, yes, but that he still loved himself. That in the litany of his life, he did not know what he would change to more assuage a god that clearly deemed him unworthy. He admitted the acknowledgement that he shared the pain of his fellow men, that he felt a vacancy through his mind that some higher power had not chosen him, had watched him emphatically doing his best to live a life that he would classify as beautiful and deemed his efforts unworthy. Yet, still, again, this perversion had not pervaded his heart.

“How?” asked this girl. And again our man was silent. The answer was not given to our man, just the confidence in the eventual righteousness of whatever that answer is. Our man tried anyway. “I once watched a young boy on glue trip over his own drunken feet, hit his head on the tumble down and lie there immobile, maybe dead, maybe fine. I looked at him, wept in my heart, walked on without helping him, without looking back. I make no claim to be anything but a sinner. My life is littered with moments where I look back and self-loathe the demagogue that I was. What I proclaim is happiness, not that happiness of a sadist who takes pleasure in his own maliciousness, but rather that of the ambitious man, the sort of man who understands the limits of life: that one has to take chances: to roll the dice, and appreciate and deal with the absolute eventuality that mistakes will be made. I was ambitious. I climbed mountains from whose summits I could not see any land that I knew, but rather made my way just following my feet and the survival skills inherent to my humanity. I was told the way of the lord. I knowingly deviated from it. I supposed my punishment is at hand. But so what? I did not spend my life enthralled to the mantras of others, repeating words, actions, and days in the service of the already discovered, the already experienced. I believe that those people lifted up into rapture are happy, but their happiness is very different from that which infuses me. I know no fright of the hell which you proclaim is before me: I greet its eventuality with the same moderate curiosity that I would greet that heaven which was not gifted to me, or to the turning to dust which I thought was my eventuality. Will they torture me with pain? Is that the fear of a hell, pain? I will master pain with the same curiosity I would ponder a fresh summer day. I am my own master, I am no slave to god even if he is the true god. Death provides me no fear, life provides me no fear. The only thing I fear is not being true to myself. Of compromising those axioms through which I live my life by trying to conform to some system which does not have the ring of truth sing sweetly in my ears. The others were right in their beliefs? Yes, they were risen. But so what? Eternal life and the pearly gates of heaven to me seem a poor reward to not appreciate that we were in heaven anyway, an ability to live in the infinite moment and appreciate the visual splendor of light playing off a poorly painted wall. Maybe these people will find the meaning to life in their immortal incarnation, but, I pity them. Pity those days on earth where they lived for the glories that they have now attained rather than those glories which were before them. I lived my life true. I will continue to live my life true. I am at peace, much like a mountain, star or running stream: those forces of nature which do not operate in the hope of some different life but rather operate with the same intensity, day in, day out, until their existence in their present form no longer exists. Upon my death regardless of where my soul goes I will be forever happy thinking that those molecules that once created my flesh will now be a part of some different mountain, some faraway star, some young bubbling stream. I care not what is the reality, all I care is what I make out of my perception of reality, and under the guise that I am true to myself I will be forever in praise of the wonders of life. Yes, I have sinned in the Christian sense, walked past that poor boy who tumbled. You don’t think his fate has filled my mind, those others sorrows that buffet me every day: but I have chosen a higher morality then that of the eternal gods: I have chosen the way of compromise, the undeniable infinite of shades grays. That tumbled boy an equation whose eventual causality I could not encompass, and I made the cynically realistic choice to avoid the situation: a choice I live with, though now I believe it may have been the wrong choice. Life is full of mistakes. To me, it is not the avoidance of mistakes that is the witness to a holy life, but, rather, it is how we interact with our mistakes, learn from them, learn to be their masters and finally, to rise above them. These men, surrounding us with their despair, they are not sad because they were not brought to revelation but rather because in their hearts they feel like they were caught. They thought they could keep secret those deviances in their hearts and are depressed that god has found them out. Myself, god has seen me as unworthy, but I showed him with honesty everything that makes me, me. To hell with a god that loves me not! I love me. I would argue with god in every decision I have made, in all their vast complexities, and I believe I could prove in every case that I took the course most honorable, one not filled with the laziness of not attempting to tackle the complexities of life nor one defined by a fear of misstep. I have misstepped; I have gone astray; but at least I attempted to walk towards something magnificent. Judge me as you will, girl, your insight just as important as any gods. Just as likely to make me question myself, just as I believe in the strength of my own position being able to carry me through the harrow of your contempt no matter your loathing of me.”

Well, that was long, neurotic, and not overly cohesive. Clearly the reality of a pure thought passing through the killing fields of verbal expression. But still, if perhaps those words meant nothing concrete the impassioned tone and fiery eyes spoke their own language with this girl. She looked at him while he talked, saying nothing but never looking away from his face, his eyes. Both of them were as rocks in the flowing river of the malcontents flowing around them, that malcontent threatening at any moment to break both their spirits: our mans spirit being tested in its virtuousness as never before and this girls spirit having a flower bulb so ready to bloom, just needing respite a little longer, a few more moments of sunshine on a quickly fading day.

She told him that his words did not make sense, that she disagreed with him and that he was in denial. She said this while staring down, staring to the left, staring to the right. Human weakness, it is how we know there is no true god no matter what he who lives in heaven might proclaim: weakness pervades our souls so deeply that there is no way it can be separated from the model that gave us genesis. Pervades us so deeply that those who claim to holiness are doing nothing but hiding a truth, shying away from honesty. Monsters, all of us: can we not accept it, make peace with it. This girl, she took a step back from our man. Said she was sorry to be the one to carry to our man such unfortunate tidings: she looked him right in the eyes, rainbows sprouting from her sad gaze, eyes that showed a luminosity which was always there and would, we hope, always be there. Then, she slipped into that quiet river of despair floating around the quickly disappearing island of their conversation. She was gone with such an abruptness that our man did not think to reel her in, to thank her, to do something incorrigibly human that would make him exist in her heart as anything but a moment in a day which was quickly fading from her conscious mind and, even that of her subconscious mind. These two had shared something palpable, but no more palpable then those interactions undergone thousands of times in a life that we ignore. Those little resonances that are the answer to the true holiness which our man proclaimed to adhere to.

Our man stood in the street without that girl for a few moments. His face underwent a certain number of facial expressions but none of them extreme. Then, in the face of glowering humanity and mournful gods our man continued walking down the street. Continued looking like if there were no others around he would be skipping, even clicking his heels. Continued trying with all the power of those infinite universes which constructed the vast labyrinth of his existence to live life as truly as he was capable.

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