Picture from the manga “Hunter × Hunter”, written and illustrated by Yoshihiro Togashi and published by Shueisha in the Japanese magazine Weekly Shōnen Jump.
“You reek of desperation, sinner. I catch a dash of loneliness, too, but everyone dies alone in the end.”
Death had a keen sense of smell. I had no recollection of how I got where I was. It didn’t feel like waking from or into a nightmare, but rather just living out as I always had been, just like a dream. The blackness of it all, the sheer nothing that surrounded me was abysmal, but somehow fitting and welcoming. I thought of my mother and the memories materialized close to us, like a projection without a screen.
“When it’s not the mother, it’s the lover. Sometimes a dog may show up.” Death didn’t have a voice per-se, and hadn’t materialized into a form which I could recognize. Rather, he was the entire space, or at least “he” felt like that. The voice also transmitted an annoyance of sorts. Perhaps welcoming the souls of all dead beings had him fed up, or at least too used to it.
“So, human. What will it be? Usually they beg to return, wish to make a deal, or in general just be very displeased with the whole situation.”
I thought about it. Somehow I was here, dead. How or why it had happened I did not know, and it seemed better this way. I began to recall things about my life, as death quietly watched the projections. Minutes passed. Hours passed. My companion watched in silence. He eventually chose to present himself as a shapeless black void of straight lines interdimentionally intersected, so there wasn’t much to look at, really. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry, and even began interacting with the projections. When there was just one, he would quietly watch. If, however, another one popped up before it was finished, he would either move them closer together, or flat out mix them together, creating an incomprehensible commixtion which seemed to fascinate him even more than single ones. At this point I began questioning the nature of the place I was in. Maybe this was a practical joke. The projections now showed memories of me being ridiculed, as a kid and an adult. Death chuckled.
“I see you’re not amused anymore. I guess you’d like to know the point of all this.”
“Please”, I replied.
Death cleared its throat.
“You’re dead. That much you probably understand. There is, unfortunately, no such thing as an afterlife. Fortunately for you, however, this is the next best thing. A personal limbo.”
He went silent. Nothing was projecting on the void this time.
“If there is no afterlife, then you must be a simple product of my imagination, right? How would you then know what others see before… after they die?” The word-plays were already getting tricky.
“Death” shifted a bit. After brief moments of silence, he began.
“Just as you were a product of evolution, this space is a product of the collective unconsciousness’ need for elation. The act-rest pattern took hold of living forms. With higher brain functions, and the rationalization of death, the need for a final resolution became apparent. Biology turned out to be smarter and more giving than anyone imagined, and created a system of indestructible traces that spill into the environment after death, and are later easily and effectively transferred into living organisms. The “death stain”. Think of it as a locked door which can only be opened by the chemistry of a dying brain. As such, I am not death per-se, only its stain. I am there when you’re born, I grow as you do, eat and breathe, then manifest upon your death. After that, I’ll move on. And so will you. From what I can tell, your physical body is intact, save for the fact that, well, you’re dead.”
Death was either well informed or full of shit. How could a bunch of trace remnants not only know about its origins, but also be able to retain memories across travels? Was there more he wasn’t letting on? Furthermore…
“You can’t read my thoughts, can you?” I asked.
Death seemed annoyed now. Its colors changed, the lines rearranged and crossed over each other. The whole impossible mesh of unsolvable lines kept shifting into different arrangements. Indescribable hues desaturated into others, and I felt some kind of head rush, but without any blood or head, for that matter.
“Listen, mortal. The information I’ve provided is a courtesy. Half of the others have gone without even the slightest exchange. If you want us to end this now…” he materialized a comically over-sized scythe, one that couldn’t possibly have any real world use.
“End what, exactly? What is this place? Can I just stay here indefinitely?”
The scythe disappeared.
“Every vessel is different, it is impossible for me to gauge exactly how much longer we have. Some of the responsibilities of transitioning properly are left to me, but I’m not the boss here.”
To be continued