by D. R. Prescott
"The President of the United States issued a warning..." The monotonous tripe on the radio had little effect upon Wilbur Tremont. Habit turned on the radio; background noise masking the persistent, mechanical moans and groans about him. A montage of red lights flickered ahead as the traffic slowed and began to crawl like a grossly distended amoeba. The minutes that it took to move the next mile were maddening, a frustrating series of starts and stops. He was surrounded by a forest of useless plastic and steel. He caught a glimmer of hope ahead.
Anticipation of breaking loose from the creeping ooze had him tense. Wilbur changed lanes looking for the best opening through the snarled traffic. A horn squalled. So what?
Fifteen years of driving the same freeway took its toll. He spent ten, twelve or more hours shuffling paper from inbox to outbox, trapped in a continuous loop, leaving in the morning, returning every evening to the starting point to recharge, and repeating the cycle again and again and again. Monotonous. Why was he always so harried? Habit? Or, inbred? He never gave it much thought.
Wilbur's hands ached. He loosened his white-knuckled grip on the wheel. Too dedicated. Too conscientious. That was it! People depended on him too much. If he was nothing else, he was dependable, too damn dependable! He had two automobiles, a house with an appendage that had no room for two cars, a proper spouse and the ideal number of offspring. Perfect. Neat. Respectable. And... dull!
Why did he have to hurry? Why? He just knew he had to get out of this infernal traffic. The traffic began to pick up. Wilbur spotted an opening and stomped on the accelerator. Forty. He grinned. It was nice to see the needle climb. Fifty. He was beginning to make some time. Sixty and moving traffic ahead. Wilbur should have been elated. He wasn't. He was already later than usual. He hated being late. Late for what? Who cares? Look at it! Seventy.
Wilbur looked down at the speedometer. He looked up and gasped. How could that be? Time slowed, providing him a stop-action view of the mass of stalled vehicles. His right foot had already applied the brakes, making the Chrysler's tires squeal and smoke. Frame by frame the undercarriage of the tractor-trailer approached. His fingers tightened on the steering wheel. His body stiffened. His mind stalled.
The final impact looked to be a series of snapshots, rather than one continuous episode. He clung to each second like it mattered; amplifying it; stretching every moment to the utmost. He watched, oddly detached. His body did what it had to do but his mind, or that part of his mind of which he was aware, intermittently stopped the action and reviewed nonessential details as the trailer inexorably approached. Hazardous materials label. Muddy Colorado license plate. A cracked brake light. Hinges…
"Is he alive?"
"Don't know. Can't get a pulse."
"Get him out of there!"
"Did ya see that? He just buried that sucker under the trailer. Wow! Drivin’ stupid!"
"Did anyone call the cops? Give him CPR!”
"How, stupid! He's pinned.”
Wilbur tried to focus on the voices but they were distant and obscure.
"Who is he?"
"Is he dead?"
"Don't think so."
"Where the hell are the paramedics?"
Wilbur floated. The voices evaporated. He was aware, but knew not how, where or why. Nothing seemed to matter. Dazzling pinpoints of light and graceful shafts of color raced by him. A brilliant orb of white light surfaced, distant, defined. He was attracted to it. It was warm. The approaching bubble of light shimmered and undulated, translucent silken threads escaped from its surface weaving a complex pattern into which Wilbur tumbled helplessly. He tingled from head to toe.
Sudden pain blended with the symphony of sensations. "No!" Wilbur screamed as the seed of awareness took root within him. He knew; it needed no analysis. The circular ball of light took on a grainy, almost transparent texture. He approached it at a geometric rate, siphoned through an orifice too small to accept him, squeezed, distended; his entire being was stretched and distorted as he plunged forward out of control. He wanted to kick and bite, but realized that he had no feet to kick or teeth to bite.
"Wilbur." A statement rather than a question.
"Wha..." Wilbur's rage transformed into unbridled fear.
"It’s time." He heard it. No. Felt it? The words formed inside; no; not words; more like very intense impressions. Wilbur was frightened, perplexed and lost. The curtain had gone up leaving him naked center stage without a script.
"Where am I?" Wilbur managed, still wondering how.
"God?" Why did it seem so familiar?
"Am I dead?"
"A matter of perspective."
"Where are you?"
"In one sense, everywhere."
"Only God is everywhere."
"Because..." Wilbur was at a loss. He folded in upon himself. All he wanted was to curl up in a ball and make it all go away. Why did he have the urge to suck his thumb? "Dreaming. This is one hellish nightmare. That's it!"
"No, Wilbur, you’re not dreaming. We’re here."
"Us? We?" Wilbur's anger returned and peaked quickly, only to be dowsed in a siege of dread.
"Relax, Wilbur. Don’t waste energy unnecessarily. You’ll fade."
"Fade?" Coldness seeped into every niche. True, he was becoming weak, lethargic.
"Crazy! I've gone completely stark raving mad. Talking to myself. For god’s sake!”
"Talking? A meaningless concept left over from your corporeal existence. You are communicating with all that is, all that was, and a portion of what will be. I am just the vehicle."
"Oh, God!" Wilbur withdrew. He was confused and overwhelmed. Doubts surfaced. Suspicions darted about here and there, nonsensically. "I can't see you."
"Seeing, another meaningless thing. And, I told you, ‘I am not God.’"
"I can't see. But, I see everything, everywhere. Crazy! God, what's happening to me!"
"Wilbur, it’s difficult to understand until you make transition. There is nothing to fear. Fear only wastes your energy, of which you have very little left, you are fading quickly.”
"Transition?" Wilbur wanted something, anything to distract him.
"You’ve been released from your body. You’re in a sort of limbo, a disconnected, wandering consciousness. You must make a decision soon."
"What decision? Why?"
"In your present state, your consciousness will dissipate, fade. Since you’re not an integral part of the Whole, you are vulnerable. Only you can make the choice."
"You have three. Nonexistence. Assimilation. Or, return to your old body if it can still be made functional.”
"How can I go back?" Wilbur clutched at the keyword.
"You will it."
"That's all?" Too simple.
A myriad of questions fought for attention. Maybe it was the ultimate game; a final aberration inflicted upon him to avoid the inevitable.
"How do I join?"
"The same way; you merely want it. Then, you become a part of the Whole."
"What is it?"
"The most succinct words are consciousness and non-consciousness. The Whole is the sum of it. You are a conscious part right now. If you don’t choose, you’re energy will fade into the background and you’ll no longer be conscious. Consciousness is an emergent quality. It takes energy to establish and sustain it."
"God? There's got to be God. Nothing makes any sense unless..."
"We don’t know."
"We don't know if a god or gods exist."
"What about the Whole?"
"We don't know. Just as a single brain cell isn’t capable of knowing what the whole brain knows."
Wilbur tried futilely to digest that. Questions partially formed and piled up in a dark corner unanswered. He recoiled; conflicting urges sought a quiet place to dock his tormented mind.
"I'm going back!" Wilbur blurted out before he had realized that he had made a choice. “Who are…” Before he could finish the question, the universe raced away from him. He dropped precariously toward a black pit--a mere pinpoint, distant, opaque and growing. It steadily grew larger, more defined.
The vortex! He needed no introduction. He was going back. He hit the vortex hard. One moment, he was approaching it; the next, he was through it. There was no prolonged sensation of being siphoned through a tube as there had been on his previous encounter. It was quick, definite and disconcerting. A black shroud covered him.
"Get him to Memorial, Fast!"
Wilbur started. A baritone voice activated him. Pain defied definition or exact location. It was everywhere. Wilbur failed to muster a coherent thought. He drifted aimlessly, randomly.
"He's comin' around! Keep pumpin' man!"
"Come on, Buddy! You can do it!”
The pain sharpened making Wilbur groan. He tasted salt. His chest throbbed rhythmically. He struggled to comprehend it. A speedometer hitting seventy was all that he could dredge up. Hidden in a deep crevice was something else, more than a feeling, more than an actual memory, something significant. Was it good or bad? Was it real or not?
"Hurry up, Herb! We're losin’ him!"
"Wha...!" Wilbur tried to speak but managed only an acrid retch.
"Clear his throat!"
Wilbur tried to speak again. He choked violently. Pain ripped through his rib cage and bore straight to his back between his shoulder blades.
"Damn it! Clear his throat!"
He tried to open his eyes. No good. A murky veil coated his eyes. The pain momentarily eased; he drifted. Wilbur choked in terror as he realized why. "God! No!"
“I came back! Hear me? I came back!” He only heard himself strangling. They couldn’t understand him, neither did he. He panicked. Abruptly, a cloud of relief gently swept away his panic and settled gently over him, hovered and erased his pain. He wanted it back. He wanted it all back. The last thing Wilbur Tremont experienced on Earth was the sound of gurgling, an aborted, drowned scream of rage mixed with terror. Then, nothing.
The vortex approached. A familiar point of light beckoned. His entry was more painful and demanding than he remembered. It was brutal, seeking the very roots of his being. Once through, the relief was wonderful. He was humbled by the vastness about him. Space and time merged into a collage of sinewy filaments. Beautiful! Absolutely the most beautiful thing he had ever experienced. Why hadn't he noticed it before?
"I didn't make it." Wilbur felt a sudden deep sense of loss. He was tired, so very, very tired.
"What's the use?"
"Join us. We are all here for you. It’s the only way you can continue. Do it, Wilbur, now! You’re fading fast!"
Wilbur hesitated. The construction of a single thought was a tremendous effort. “Who are you?”
“You know already, don’t you Little Man.”
“Do it now Wilbur!” His father demanded.
Weaker more than he could ever remember, a vast chasm loomed and threatened to swallow him. He submitted.