Bleeding by the edge of a railway line on a cold summer’s evening in Southern England isn’t the best way to end one’s life. But then again his hadn’t been much of a life. Forty-four years old and this is how it was to end. Shivering beside a cold steel rail waiting for the 7:51 from Paddington to come and remove his head. He didn’t remember the next part. It wasn’t a blur it just wasn’t. It ceased to be. He ceased to be. One minute he was staring in the opposite direction to the oncoming train and then…
He blinked, trying to stop the bright white light burning his retina, an instinctive reaction that was part of his unconscious.
“Don’t bother with that.” A voice came from nowhere. “It won’t do you any good. Just open your eyes. C’mon it won’t hurt.”
“Where am I?”
“Who knows, now c’mon let’s get moving.”
“My legs, I can’t, I don’t think I can.”
“Of course you can, now open your eyes, stand up and get walking.”
The room stretched forward for an eternity but, despite many years of arthritis, he felt no pain, no aching as he stoically placed one foot in front of another, turning from a psychosomatic limp, to walk, to a jog, to a trot, to a run. For the first time in as long as he could remember he ran and ran until his lungs were about to burst, or would have done. He had never been a fit man and he should only have been able to run a short distance before his sides stitched and his tongue burned, but when he did finally stop his companion was just a small dot in the distance. With a grin on his face he waited.
“How did you know?”
“See, this arm?”
“Yes of course it looks perfect.”
“Well that’s always been there. But this,” he pointed to his big toe “was chopped off when I was a kid. Now let’s get moving I have a feeling we’re nearly there.”
Where there were was anybody’s guess. They certainly didn’t know as they approached the atrium and saw many thousands of other people facing forward, staring blankly into the distance towards a giant screen. Pulling up a seat, he sat down at the back, near where they’d come in. Moments later he turned around to look where he’d entered only to find thousands more people behind him. No longer at the edge he was somewhere in the center of this ever expanding mass of people of all ages, colors and creeds dressed in white hospital gowns with their backs showing through the slit in the back.
“What now?” he whispered to his companion.
Nothing. It was as though he hadn’t been heard. The man who’d walked with him up that long pathway now sat staring at the screen as though listening intensely to a message being broadcast at a wavelength which was audible to everyone in the room except him. He gave the man a nudge. Again nothing. Not a flicker of movement. He tried harder the next time, but his finger just went into his arm and touched his bone. But there was no response. He tried the person to his left. The same result. Then cautiously, he turned around and looked at the people behind him. The result was the same; growing bolder he stood and walked several rows forward to discover the same motionless people, frozen, unblinkingly at the blank projector ahead of them. He kept walking forward towards an unending supply of people and then he shouted at the top of his lungs.
“HELLO!” His voice echoed around the chamber and reverberated around his head as it bounced off his eardrums.
When he next turned around the room was empty except for one man with a very long red beard.
“God? Oh dear me no.”
“No, I know that.” The man with beard looked slightly crestfallen, “I mean are you Slartibartfast?”
A smile spread across his face creating a thin pink gap between his moustache and the silky red beard.
“I knew you were the one, the moment I saw you. Now come with me.”
“Can you tell me where we are?”
“Yes I can.”
And he walked off towards a small door beneath the screen.
“We can’t go through there. It’s much too small.”
“Perception is in the eye of the beholder dear boy. Just follow me.”
The man who looked like Slartibartfast, but obviously wasn’t, towered over our hero, for everyone is a hero in death, and walked through the door which was considerably shorter than either of them, as though it was exactly the right height. Cautiously our hero followed him, ducking his head to avoid a bang.
“Bob, if you don’t mind.”
“Bob? But I thought you said…?”
“No, you called me that I just didn’t correct you. Where are we?”
“Yes, where are we and what just happened?”
“All will be explained.”
And he wandered off.
“This is where it all began, your life I mean. When not on Earth you live here. The trouble is you’re destroying it and we’re not happy about it.”
“Wait, what do you mean I live here?”
“All will be explained, now if you don’t mind.”
Bob, picked up his beard and headed off at such a speed that our hero had difficulty catching up.
“For an old man, you move pretty fast.”
They reached a door in another blank wall and entered what looked like a company boardroom, with its long never-ending wooden table and countless chairs.
He did as he was told and Bob walked all the way to the other end where, as just a speck in the distance, he was joined by two others, who appeared out of nowhere.
“Welcome, we are Bob. You’ve met Bob and we too are Bob. Together we run GOD Inc.”
“Please don’t interrupt. We run a holiday service which sends people to Earth for a break from being able to have anything you could desire. Think of it as camping trip in the Lake District in summer or a trip to a music festival. And we’re pissed. You and your ilk have royally fucked up the planet and we may have to start again.”
“Yes?” they asked in unison.
“What does this have to do with me?”
“It’s your fault. You started this nonsense and now you will fix it.”
“But I didn’t do anything. I was a branch manager of a small bank in Slough. I counted money in and money out. All major decisions were made by someone in a remote office; I just input data into a form. It was a soulless job in a soulless office in a soulless town. My life didn’t mean much to anyone. My ex-wife was so bored she ran off with an accountant!”
“Not now perhaps. But on your first visit to Earth you were quite the fabler and made quite a comfortable life for yourself. Many of your stories became best sellers eventually. You remember writing a nice little story about Adam and Eve?!”
“Wait, I did what?”
“You told bedtime stories for your kids and your horror stories for your friends to entertain them on quiet nights around the campfire and keep you fed. Of course you won’t remember, but anyway after your grandkids heard these fanciful tales and began telling them to their children they got written down and since life was simpler back then they got taken seriously. You kick started Judaism and Christianity, you fool!”
“But I…” he started to protest.
“Enough! What you will do is fix this problem. Luckily for you anti-theism is taking hold again and we want you to get them to believe in a new kind of god,”
“But I can’t do that. I don’t know how.”
“You did it before and you’ll do it again.”
“But people aren’t as simple as they once were and there are more them.”
“And now you have more ways to communicate with them. You will do it.”
“And if I don’t?”
“You’ll never be allowed to return here again.”
“Is that so bad?”
“You remember Slough!”
“Hmm, Okay. Now, Will I remember any of this?”
“Actually yes. You’ll be returned to your old mundane life and you need to start as soon as possible.”
“How the hell do I escape Slough and convince the world that you don’t exist?”
“Might we suggest you start writing some new stories? I think you’ll be surprised how well they do. Good bye”
“C’mon mate you don’t want to do that.”
He felt his feet being pulled and his body dragging along the road as his head banged along the tarmac just in time to see the wheels of the fast diesel whizz past his nose.
“You know what? You’re absolutely right,” he stood up, brushed himself down and thanked his good Samaritans, “I have a book to write”.
Bio: Stuart Carruthers is a writer of short fiction and lives in Taiwan with his wife and 2 kids. His work can be found on all Amazon sites.