Shield Maiden

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Attacks from high on those below

Twin fiery torches she’ll uphold

And overrun she takes control

With torch-bloomed auras, vast shields of cold

 The ground pops and explodes around us.

The woman next to me, Jessica, raises twin rods, one in each hand, and weird flames sprout dramatically out of their tips. She holds them overhead, climbing out of our foxhole. As the surrounding bombardment showers us with dirt and debris, shrapnel is deflected away from us as if a force field has been erected. We stay down, heads covered, as power spheres are fired upon our position.

With torch-bloomed auras, vast shields of cold

Under which nothing harms her or those that she shields

Forgetting about who she was, she protects

And all are amazed at the power she wields

 Jessica stands firm with torches held high warding off the rain of shocking energy balls from alien ships passing above.

Things calm down again. Her flames recede and Jessica returns to the foxhole by my side.

“Are you okay?” she asks.

I smile and nod letting her know I’m okay. After staring at me a moment she cocks her eyebrow and smiles.

“Whoa. Did I just smile?”

“And right after being pelted by aliens,” I point out. She’s truly astonished at her reaction.

“I haven’t actually smiled in a long time,” she confides. “A very long time. Not since music became boring. Or since colors seemed dull…”

“You mean…back before you did it?” I ask tentatively.

“Suicide is supposed to be the way out,” she laments. “The last resort. The end of pain. The end of everything. Suicide is supposed to be nothingness. Is there no escape from conscious torture?”

“That’s not what I’ve come to expect,” I mumble honestly, but carelessly. I don’t want to have to introduce too much abstract reality to an already-beleaguered soul. However –

“Then you did it, too!” she surmises. “But we’re both here, with these…other…people.”

I realize that Jessica might be like me! What was it Everborn told me? Nobody dies in their own head. If we’re killed, we just switch Earths and repeat if necessary until we’ve lived out our full lives of 110 years or so. Bijaksana says that I am rare because a blood clot in my brain allows me to remember all my previous Earths. But if Jessica is in a similar condition, this is simply the next Earth for her. And this is her first encounter with other earths.

“Why did you kill yourself?” she wants to know.

Why not tell her something? Maybe it will comfort her.

“I was being eaten alive by a relentless swarm of insects, just like everyone else around me,” I say. “It was a horror show, and very, very painful both to experience and to watch. I was about to be killed anyway. I hoped it would be better to cut the torture and move on. Shot myself.”

Jessica’s jaw drops. “I could never shoot myself.”

“How did you do it?” I inquire.

“I stepped out of a window on the 16th floor. So what’s this?” she wants to know. “Why are we still talking and breathing and doing anything at all? All that stuff about the afterlife is true?”

“What…stuff?”

“My father always said that there are no coincidences. The game is rigged and we’re given just enough wiggle room to screw ourselves over if we’re weak, or even worse, evil. Because The Greater Power is weeding us out for our afterlife assignments and that’s why the test is underway. He used to preach that once Eternity finally gets started everyone will be in place. And unlike mortal penal systems, God doesn’t hand out unjust sentences. Unlike mortal lotteries, God won’t distribute unjust rewards. Individuality, beyond perhaps a commonplace talent or two, isn’t conducive to Dad’s kind of faith. General order is the goal and the meaning of it all is simple: do unto others as all others are doing unto others. Nobody’s worth a damn.”

“Statistically we weren’t the only ones on Earth who ended our own lives last night,” I point out somewhat optimistically? “Someone did it 40 seconds before you and 40 seconds after you. Maybe that was me? Anyway, about 40,000 people kill themselves every day. Self-inflicted accidents, stupors, or hearing voices telling them to end it. And like me, some are about to die anyway and just want control over their suffering.”

She relaxes, opening up to me. “Some time ago I suppose, all of my responsibilities became unbearably burdensome. I can’t remember exactly how that happened because I didn’t know that I was being overwhelmed at the time. It started coming out in odd ways. The first thing I remember noticing was that my senses were off. Things didn’t taste right. Things didn’t smell normal. You see, at work keeping up is impossible. The more I try, the more things come around that I have to deal with. I am expected to put on a happy face. The more responsibility they heap on me the less and less I feel like myself. Who am I any more? I am literally captured in a cubicle and the world itself is drained of life. And without this, without keeping up, moving on, going on, there is no ‘security.’ Somehow, despite being surrounded by people on all sides, I’m isolated, shut off, sad all of the time and have absolutely no picture of a future for myself. The career path is obvious, but the path is blocked as one by one every positive emotion has been wiped out. Joy, compassion, passion itself, love, laughter, a sense of humor, all killed off. Meanwhile sadness, guilt, anger, resentment, jealousy – all these things have been fattened up and well fed.”

As I listen I realize that I don’t know as much as I think I do. Is this how it is for anyone who takes their own life in some way?

She’s not finished opening up:

“In the mirror my reflection is flat – I’m not really there. But I remember how I used to be. I’d like to scream. I won’t let myself scream. I’m expected to behave rationally. Everything is supposed to make sense. I want to sleep. But even sleep is silent, dreamless, void. Then another disappointing and threatening morning arrives. How can I force myself through it yet again?”

Distant approaching noise heralds the return of our attackers.

“Do you know anything about physics?” I wonder. She nods negatively. “Well I do, and guess what the truth is? The truth is that our universe is composed of waves that become particles and particles that become waves. It’s easy to imagine that in a universe composed of waves becoming particles, we who live are in a ‘particle’phase while those who have died or have yet to be born are in a ‘wave’ phase. Isn’t it possible that we ‘wave’ across the cosmos to ‘particle’ distant worlds without concern for speed limits set by nature? Or do we orbit anchored to our Earth to re-particle here? Or is there a bit of both as we evolve for a few cycles in one world before venturing on to another in a natural cosmic rhythm?”

The particle world shatters as another long-range attack hits. Jessica rises to the challenge again.

As their Shield Maiden protects the flock, a swelling chorus cheers their champion as if she’s been protecting them since the dawn of Time.

 And all are amazed at the power she wields

So while helping others self-pain she ejects

There is no sleep, a soul goes on

Til the hunter’s brought down from the darkened sky

From eternal twilight, dusk or dawn

And the Who of her hurting surrenders to Why…

 

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