Stories

A page for sci-fi fans that enjoy short stories. This is where I post new ideas that rattle around my cranium in the night and force their way onto the page in the morning. Or old stories that I dig up from my files that were never shared. Most will never flesh out into novels, some may one day grow.

 

The Death of Nathan Cooper

The eighteen-wheeler was on his right side as he began passing. The trucks huge spinning rear wheels gave off a whine as his car slowly drew even with them and then slowly pulled ahead. The guard rail of the bridge was on his left. The truck drifted to the right away from his car. He was even with the middle of the tractor trailer rig when the big truck scraped the guard rail on the right. The truck driver instinctively swerved to the left to get off the rail. Nathan swerved his car to the left to get out of the way of the truck. The sleepy truck driver saw Nathan’s car in his mirror and realizing his mistake he swerved back to the right. But his maneuver was too violent, overdone. The big truck hit the guard rail and bounced back into the little car’s lane. The driver swerved to the right again and the big truck began to sway, He steered left and then right trying in vain to gain control of his rig. The top heavy truck loaded with metal pipe tipped up on its left wheels, hung there for an eternity and then crashed down on its left side smashing the little beemer like a small black insect. Nathan never felt a thing.

Nathan was 53 years old when his body was buried and mourned. But he knew nothing of this. He never saw his family’s grief or his friends consoling and reminiscing. He would never know of his wife’s loneliness or see his son grow up, graduating with honors from Duke University. He would not be there for his daughter’s wedding or her first child. Nathan was gone from this world.

***

          Nathan’s thoughts were sluggish, dreamlike. He struggled to think, struggled to awaken. It was more like being drugged and lying on a couch in the middle of a party. Voices and noises filled his mind, but it was incoherent. He could not make any sense of the noises. His mind strained to think straight, but the more he tried the more everything seemed to slip away. Soon his mind rebelled and slipped into unconsciousness again.

When Nathan again began waking up, a stream of thoughts, and memories began to take shape. Nathan relived the morning of his death. He remembered his wife kissing him good bye. He remembered the cold leather of his car’s seat, the blast of the radio music, and the smooth hum of the engine as it started. Then the realization of a crushing weight and an impossible wreck struck his thoughts. He was confused. How had he survived? Where was he? His vision was filled with a blindingly bright light. Was he blind? The noise of where ever he was, not so much heard as much as it was felt. Not really felt, it filled his mind. Voices, or thoughts, thoughts from other minds, seemed to fill his brain like a background noise.

The confusion began to leave him and in its place a deep fear began to grow. How badly was he hurt? Was he paralyzed? He tried to feel his legs and he could not. He tried to move his legs, nothing. He tried to sit up, no response. He tried to move his arms, to reach up and touch his face, but again, nothing moved. He felt nothing. The fear grew. He could not feel any part of his body. He could not see because of that damned light in his eyes! He wanted to scream for someone to get the light out of his face! He wanted to scream to anyone!

“Talk to me! Tell me what has happened. How bad is it?” his mind cried out but no sound accompanied his thoughts. He felt the first tentacles of panic begin to invade his mind. Thoughts raced through his mind. The wreck, paralysis, he remembered no ambulance, can’t move, can’t feel, maybe a neck injury, no pain, he remembered his wife, panic, can’t hear, can’t move, voices, noise, light, but I can’t hear my own heart, the thought stopped all the others. “I am scared out of my wits, my heart should be pounding in my throat! I can’t even feel my heart. Am I breathing”, he thought. He concentrated, trying to feel his heart beating, trying to feel his own breathing, trying to take a deep breath. Nothing, and now the panic and fear returned, stronger than before, consuming him, driving him towards madness.

There was a subtle, brief change in the light. It was as if a grey shadow had passed by. He felt his sanity returning as if washing the madness from his mind. A strange calmness filled him. It grew into a serenity and peace that he had seldom felt. Now his whole mind was floating, and the peacefulness had become wonderous joy, a feeling of satisfaction, contentment. For a moment all the voices returned in an incoherent stream of noise, then one voice drowned out all the others.

“Be at peace.” It said and repeated the relaxing whisper, over and over until his mind obeyed. His thoughts were calm, if a little slow. The voice was all that filled his mind.

“You are where all men go. You are what all men become. Your world of pain and sorrow is gone. You are here with us. No more pain. No more strife. No hunger or worry, now. There is nothing to fear.” The voice said in its calm and gentle manner.

He realized the voice was in his mind, not heard with his ears. “But I can’t feel my body. I cannot move any part of my body.” He protested weakly.

“You have no body, you need no body. All that was Nathan Cooper is here.” The voice said, and was silent.

All that WAS Nathan Cooper, the thought stuck in his mind, but it was hard to accept. His mind understood the meaning of the words, but it rejected the concept. “Where is the doctor, I want to speak to the doctor.” He responded.

“There is no doctor. You are here. All that you have known has been left behind. Your Earthly life is over, Nathan. You are beginning a new journey.” The voice said patiently.

“Am I dead?” and with the thought came the admission he had been unwilling to make. He knew the answer, and the answer brought forth a whole new set of questions.

“Yes” the voice responded.

“Are you God?” Nathan asked.

“No”

“Who are you? What are you?” Nathan asked with trepidation.

“You would call me an angel.” The voice answered.

Nathan felt a great swell of relief. “Is this Heaven?”

“No”

“Is this Hell?” Nathan asked, with worry.

“No”

“Then what is it?” Nathan was now more curious than fearful.

“It is what you make it,” The voice answered.

Nathan thought for a moment, but the answer was too vague. He tried another direction. “Are you here to guide me?” Nathan asked.

“I am here to maintain order, to insure that everything is as it should be. I am here to restore calmness and order to your thoughts,” the voice said.

“Thank you. I was confused, frightened. You did calm my thoughts didn’t you?” Nathan said.

“Yes”

“What happened to my family? Where are they? Are they all right?” Nathan asked. “Can I see them?”

“I don’t know what is happening to your family, Nathan. I have no contact with their world,” the voice said. After a pause it said, “Your old life is behind you now. You have no contact with that world.”

Nathan knew he should feel sad, but the feelings were absent, as if blocked out. “But you’re an angel. Can’t you look in on them? Can’t you look over them?”

“Angel is the best description of me in your mind. I don’t have wings or a harp. I don’t travel between worlds, and I don’t get involved with living humans. Many of your concepts of this world are…inaccurate,” the voice said.

“How can I find out about the people I love? How can find out what happens to them?” Nathan asked.

“Most times you will not know what is happening in their lives, but sometimes you do. You have plenty of time Nathan. All things can be known, in their own time.” The voice was again being vague.

“What do you mean sometimes?” he asked.

“Occasionally someone, that knows your son or daughter or your wife, will die and bring you word about them,” the voice answered.

“And when my wife dies, will we be reunited here?” Nathan asked.

“Yes, she will be here, and she will be able to communicate to you all the news about your family,” was the reply.

“I really do have all the time in the world.” Nathan said with reluctant acceptance.

“Yes, you do,” the voice said.

“Where are my parents?” Nathan asked. He had lost both parents to cancer many years earlier.

“They are here,” the voice said.

“Can I go to them? I want to see them. I have so much to tell them.” Nathan was excited at the thought, at least excited in a reserved way. He still felt as though there was something blocking his strong emotions, keeping them controlled.

“You don’t have to go anywhere. You can contact them with your thoughts,” the voice answered.

“What do you mean? How?” Nathan was puzzled.

“The voices you heard earlier. Those were the thoughts of everyone here. You can hear their thoughts and they can hear yours. You must learn to filter through the many voices and focus on only the one you wish to hear,” the voice stated, as if it were the easiest thing ever. “You will learn. You have plenty of time.”

“How long does that take? I want to talk to them now.” Nathan was getting frustrated with the angel’s vague answers and obvious lack of interest in helping Nathan.

“You are getting upset. That will achieve nothing. You must remain calm and submit your desires to the will of God. You must forget your own wants, put away your own ego and become a part of all that is around you. It is in this way that harmony and peace will be found,” the voice answered, and Nathan felt a force driving the frustration out of him. A calmness returned to him.

“Where is God? Can I talk to him?” Nathan asked.

“He is all around you. You are a part of him and he flows through you,” the angel replied.

“All my life I have struggled to succeed. I have fought the clock. I have fought rival companies. I have strived to achieve my goals. I cannot simply stop and calmly wait to slowly learn how to communicate with others here. I need some help. I want to learn as quickly as possible.” Nathan was getting frustrated again.

“Your time on Earth would have been better spent in learning patience. You should have spent your time learning to submit your will to the will of God, to turn yourself over to his divine plan, instead of pursuing   your own materialistic goals. You will find peace and joy here only if you submit to his will. Giving in to your own desires will only lead to frustration and misery,” the angel stated. “I will leave you alone for a while to think this over.”

“When will you be back?” Nathan asked, suddenly afraid to be left alone.

“I will return when I return. There is no schedule here.” And with that the angel was gone. Nathan could feel his absence. Nathan could feel the calmness that the angel had brought leave his mind. He was alone, but the river of voices the noise of countless others was in his head again.

At first he tried to shut them out, but he could not keep his concentration for very long. It was tiring, and it only made him feel more alone, isolated. As the voices returned, one voice became louder than the rest. It was calling his name.

“Nathan, Nathan, relax and hear me. Can you hear me? Focus only on me,” the new voice was saying.

“Yes, I hear you. Who are you?” As he began communicating with the new voice he found he was able to tune the rest of the voices out and allow the single voice to be heard in his mind. And more remarkably he was suddenly aware of who the individual was. He knew his name was Marcus and that he too had left a family behind. It was as though Marcus’ memories were open to Nathan’s mind. Nathan could read Marcus’ mind and memories.

“You know me now don’t you?” said Marcus.

“Yes, I do. I don’t understand it, but I do know you. I know where you used to live. I know your wife, your children, your job, your whole life seems to be open to me.” Nathan was amazed.

“Yes, our minds are one when we communicate. We share our memories as well as our thoughts. You’re adjusting well to your new situation. Some reject it for a long time before they finally accept their new life,” Marcus said. “In fact some never really let go and accept it at all.”

“What do you mean they never accept it? How can anyone not come to accept it? What other choice is there?” Nathan said.

“Some continue to fight for control. They try to impose their own will upon this world and live in constant frustration and anguish. They live in constant misery. They never accept the reality of this world,” Marcus said with sadness.

Nathan thought about that for a moment. Then he asked, “Are you saying that I have no free will, no will of my own?”

But there was no answer. In fact there was no Marcus. He could no longer feel the presence of Marcus, or touch his mind. The voices were still a constant noise, but they were in the background. They did not seem as loud as before. He was deep in his own thoughts. After a time he decided to listen more closely to the river of voices. Perhaps he could find Marcus.

As he opened his mind to the river of voices he was overwhelmed by the noise. It was too much. He tried to shut it out again. For a while he closed his mind, discouraged. Then, because there was nothing else to do, he tried again. Slowly he began listening to the noise. Then focusing on a single voice that seemed somewhat higher than the rest he began to hear that one voice more distinctly.

“Hello, Nathan, you’re a fast learner,” Helen said, for he knew her name. In fact he was shocked when he realized who she was. He had known her. She was a friend of his mother. She had lived next door when they had lived in Memphis.

“I know you. You were our neighbor. You and my mother were good friends. Even after we moved away, you and my mother talked on the phone almost daily.” Nathan was amazed. He had not thought of her in years. But he recognized her thoughts, her voice, without any doubt.

“Yes, Nancy and I were good friends. She was very proud of you. I always said you were smart,” Helen said.

“Mom cried for days when she heard you had passed away. I’m sorry, perhaps I should not speak of that,” Nathan said, uncertain of what to say.

“I died, suddenly, of a stroke. There was no pain. I have no bad feelings of that, Nathan. Don’t worry, now tell me everything. I want hear all about you and your family,” Helen inquired.

Nathan was suddenly confused. “Mom died of cancer two years ago. Have you not seen her? Haven’t you talked to her? Surely you two have been in contact. Why wouldn’t she contact you?”

“Don’t worry Nathan, she is here, but it is a big place. There are millions here. Sometimes it takes a long time to contact the person you seek. But there is plenty of time, all the time in the world,” Helen replied, trying to comfort Nathan. They remained in contact, sharing memories and reliving pleasant past experiences. Then she drifted away and Nathan could hear her no more.

It gave him more to think about. The more he thought, the more he decided that contacting his mother would be his goal, his purpose. He needed a purpose. He listened to the stream of voices, tried to pick out his mother’s voice. He concentrated on her voice and what it sounded like. He thought of things she used to say. When the torrent of voices became too overwhelming he would stop and relive a memory of his mother. Then he would again return to the voices, seeking hers among the noise.

There was no way to judge time. Hours, days, weeks, it all had no meaning. Nathan did not know how long he had been trying to reach his mother. He was discouraged, and becoming frustrated. All he knew was that he had been trying for a long time, and had been unsuccessful. Several times he had heard voices that reminded him of her and each time he contacted them he was disappointed. He had instantly tuned them out when he realized they were not Nancy Cooper.

Finally he stopped trying. It seemed hopeless. His mind wandered. He was in what he used to call, “Veg mode,” because when he was tired, burned out, exhausted, he would sit on the couch like a vegetable. He would sit there without really thinking of anything, with the television on, but not really comprehending anything that was showing. He would sit there resting, sometimes with a drink, sometimes with nothing, until he finally fell asleep.

He was still in “veg mode” when he became aware of something else, someone else. It was the subtle feeling that a person has when they feel they are being watched in a busy restaurant. It was not the paranoid feeling of being watched, but the subtle feeling that eyes are on you. Then Nathan became aware of something else. An image was forming in his mind. It was cloudy at first, and as he tried to focus on the image it became more elusive. He discovered that as he relaxed it became more distinct. It was in another place, a place unlike any he had ever seen. It was as though he were seeing through the eyes of another person. The images were of a strange land, desert like, with mountains in the distance. A sand storm was beginning, and growing with intensity as he watched. Lightning flashed and a silent wind swept across the sand raising huge clouds of dust. The sky became red as the raging storm filled the air with sand.

Then the image was gone, and he was alone again with his thoughts and the background murmur of voices like the constant hum of machinery in a factory.

“Awesome isn’t it?” A voice said.

“You startled me. I was just thinking of what I just saw. What was it exactly?” Nathan said, his puzzlement was obvious.

“Some far off place, a planet somewhere, another world in another galaxy, perhaps, makes you wonder what he was doing there doesn’t it?” the kindly voice said.

“What who was doing? Did you see it too? Was this some kind of shared experience?” Nathan asked.

“Who? God of course. You were seeing through the eyes of God. We are all a part of the mind of God now. At least the ones who submit to his will. Those who allow themselves to be used by him, to be his tools. Yes, I saw it too, because he was using me to achieve his work,” the voice said in a disjointed stream of thought.

“I am a part of the mind of God? Why don’t I see what he is doing now?” Nathan asked excitedly.

“It is like your own earthly brain. Your brain was made up of millions of cells. Each cell had its own characteristics and its own function. Each of us is a little cell in the holy brain of God. Each of us contribute to his mind, his thoughts, his actions. We are the mind of God,” the voice went on.

“But, why can’t I see what he sees now? Why did the vision stop?” Nathan wondered.

“Just as each cell of your brain was active only when the brain called on it, each of us is only an active part of the mind of God when he needs us. Like patterns of electricity that rippled through your brain cells forming thoughts and deciphering sights and sounds, his force ripples through us. Praise the power of God. He is us and we are him,” the voice almost sang.

“Wait, wait, you’re saying that I only get a glimpse of what is happening? I never get the whole picture? Only bits and pieces? You’re saying that I am part of God’s visual cortex. Is that all you ever get?” Nathan thought.

“No, you seldom get the whole picture of what is happening. Sometimes I do get thoughts, concepts of what is happening or going to happen. I usually just get images, some brief and some quit extensive. It is glorious,” The voice was beginning to sing again.

Nathan cut him off, “So we will never know the mind of God?”

“How can we ever know the mind of God? His mind is the sum of all of ours and it is constantly growing, increasing in number and power. His power flows through us. His power is immeasurable.” The voice was beginning to chant.

“You said you receive other things besides images. So, our purpose, our job, changes. We are not always used for vision alone. Is that right?” Nathan inquired.

“Oh, no, God is not limited in his use of us. We serve his purpose. Sometimes we are used in his sight, other times we are his ears, and still others we form the thoughts of God. Those are glorious moments indeed. It is when the whole universe seems to open up and all that is true is known. All that exists is there before you. Your essence merges with eternity. God is great. God is the one true father.” The voice was off again, chanting.

“Then you have seen the truth of the universe? You have learned all that is true about the physical universe? Tell me about it.” Nathan was excited again.

“It is fleeting. It is hard to hold on to. For a brief moment it is as if all knowledge is yours and then, it escapes you. It is too much for such a tiny one such as I to retain.” The voice spoke as if speaking of a lost love.

“Then you cannot share the knowledge, the memory with me?” Nathan said. “I would long for such an experience.”

“It is ecstasy. It is glorious. It is the mind of God. It is all that is holy. There are no boundaries. There are no hidden corners.” The voice continued, but it was fading. The voice was drifted away, chanting, praising, until it was heard by Nathan no more.

Nathan’s disappointment at not being able to find the mind of his lost mother was now replaced with new hope. If it were possible to merge with the thoughts and knowledge of God, then surely anything was possible here. He began to concentrate on a higher intelligence. He tried calling on God. He tried to will his thoughts to encompass the universe. Nothing. He concentrated, trying to control his surroundings. He tried to bring the universe to him. Nothing. The more he tried the more frustrated he became. Soon he was exhausted and discouraged. Unable to think what to do next, Nathan did nothing. He rested, his mind floating in a sea of noise. If he could of cried he would have. Nathan thought of how successful he had been in the world of his former life. He had always been able to overcome any obstacle. He had been in control of his life and controlled others. Now he was completely out of control. He was helpless, adrift in some void.

As Nathan sank deeper into his own depression he heard a voice that seemed to stand out from the others. It became louder and more distinct. It was an angry voice.

“Don’t give in! Don’t let them control your mind! They just want to use you,” The angry voice warned.

“What are you talking about? Who are you?” Nathan could sense the other’s identity, but his memories were a jumbled mess of images and emotion, anger mostly. His name was Donald.

“I am not the only one they cannot control. You don’t have to let them use you. You’re free here, but they won’t tell you that. You can do what you want to do. This horrid place, I hate it! I won’t let them get the best of me. Fight them! Don’t give in!” Donald’s voice was chaotic, fractured and wild.

Nathan realized then that Donald was mad. Donald was ranting, his thoughts were chaotic and filled with emotion. Many of Donald’s thoughts were totally incomprehensible. He turned his mind away from this mad man. He shut him out. He concentrated on anything but Donald, and soon his presence was no longer felt. Nathan relaxed and slowly allowed the stream of thoughts to return and sweep him up. They carried him like a lone kayak down a peaceful river.

Nathan allowed his mind to drift for a long time. Relaxed, the frustration slowly drained away. There seemed to be a rhythmic pulse to the background noise of voices. He thought of nothing else, just allowed the rhythmic noise to fill his mind. A new vision appeared in his mind. He could see a crowd of people, a busy downtown street with people hurriedly walking along the sidewalk. He seemed to be moving along with them. Actually he was following one person in particular, a young woman that was busily typing in a text message on her phone. She was very engrossed in what she was doing. As she walked along with the crowd she failed to notice that the street light had changed. The people around her stopped at the corner but she was about to step off the curb, when a hand reached out and grasped her arm. At first she stopped, turned her head and looked up somewhat perturbed at the stranger that had interfered with her. Her attention was quickly diverted by a car speeding by the curb she was about to step off of. “Oh my, I guess I should pay more attention.” She said nervously. “Thank you.”

Nathan saw the event as though through the eyes of the helpful stranger. He watched as the man continued walking along the street, turned into a doorway and walk to the elevators. Then the vision was gone. Nathan was left with only questions of what he had witnessed.

Did he just get a glimpse of the world he had left behind? Was this the extent of his experiences, just bits and pieces? How could he spend an eternity with only these tidbits of information teasing him?

“Do not get discouraged, Nathan.” The angel was back.

“How can I not get discouraged, when it seems that I am to be constantly given only enough information to tease my curiosity. Will I never get in touch with the people I care about? Will it only be glimpses of strangers?” Nathan said.

“You have learned much already. You will learn more. As you learn to empty your thoughts and integrate your mind with the one, then you will experience more. Your understanding will grow. In time all things will be revealed to you,” the angel confided.

“What about the ones that don’t give in? What about the ones that are miserable?” Nathan asked.

“Those that cannot give up the self and accept the will of God will suffer. It is their choice. They can become one with God at any time they choose. The door is always open,” The angel said. “You have done well, Nathan. The greatest rewards here, as on Earth, are for selfless acts, giving, helping, and caring for others. Some learn early, some late and some never understand. Give yourself, openly, and completely. You will be a part of something more wonderful than anything you have ever imagined.”

Nathan thought for a moment, but before he could ask his next question the angel was gone. It was alright, he knew he had plenty of time.

 

This was an old story I wrote years ago as an exercise in trying to create a place that was both heaven and hell.

 

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