Near Death

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Contently Deranged Travelers


A famous musician experiences a bizarre spiritual phenomenon. Sequel to IN A GROVE. Continues in THE LIGHT SIDE, ICHTHYS, and DEUS EX NARNIA.


For one second, I drift away.

A kaleidoscope of memories gushes into my mind. Fragments of my life pierce my brain from the inside, like sparkling, colored glass shards. I feel that my heart is an old, decrepit train that has finally come to a screeching halt.

Thundering applause propels me back into reality.

I open my eyes.

I’m standing on the broad stage of the Shanghai Palace of Arts, overlooking an ocean of glowing faces and clapping hands. Smartphones flash in ecstatic frenzy, capturing my imposing figure from a variety of angles. I smile benevolently and wave to the crowd. It roars triumphantly in response.

The announcer, a tall, good-looking girl wearing a white blouse and a gray mini-skirt, speaks into the microphone, her voice trembling with excitement:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are so honored and so thrilled to have the international master pianist, Shlomo Horshan, perform for us here, at our own Shanghai Palace of Arts! Please show him, once again, your unwavering support and love!”

The hall erupts in standing ovation. I bow deeply, a radiant smile slathered over my full lips. I wave again and retire backstage.

A veritable horde of my worshippers invades the narrow corridor leading to my V.I.P. dressing room. A spasmodically breathing girl in denim shorts sticks a wreath of wet flowers onto my chest, shaking her head in exaltation, her ponytail bouncing rhythmically.

“Mr. Horshan! Sir!” She pronounces my name and the English words with apparent difficulty. “I’m… a big… fan! NanshenNanshen!”

The last word means “god”, with an emphasis on the masculine gender. I smile, lowering my head modestly. I glance at her small, yet shapely breasts. I fish out my iPhone from the side pocket of my concert trousers.

“Add me on WeChat.” I tap the phone and hold out my WeChat code to the girl. She emits a rapturous shriek and quickly covers her mouth. Then she frantically scans the code with her own phone, engraved in a cover representing a cute, cartoony giant panda.

A stern-looking Western lady, donning a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, looks at me attentively.

“May I have a word with you, Mr. Horshan?” Her husky voice reminds me of some Hollywood actress.

“Sure.”

We enter the V.I.P. room. A small coffee machine hums cozily. I grab a tiny smoked salmon sandwich from a glass table and swallow it greedily. I’m always hungry after a show.

“Mr. Horshan, I’m Serena Bloedtraum, a musical critic for the expat magazine Shanghai Life. Quick question: are you related to Tal Horshan?”

“The wacky Israeli astrophysicist who has read too many science fiction books and thinks he is inventing interstellar travel?” I wiggle my eyebrows. “That’s my Dad.”

She is visibly impressed by that.

“Your family is uniquely gifted, Mr. Horshan. I have to say that tonight’s performance was… phenomenal.”

“Uh-hm.” My mouth is now stuffed with a shattered, crispy cheese empanada. It’s delicious. I point at the sofa.

“Please, Ms. Bloedtraum.”

“Serena.”

She stares at me, her mouth slightly open. I methodically chew on the empanada, thinking of her soft, rosy lips and that space between them. I smile at my own thoughts, swallow the empanada with force and reach for a piece of foie gras terrine.

“Your interpretation of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 30 is remarkable,” Serena says, crossing her legs and adjusting her tweed skirt. “Frankly, I haven’t heard anything comparable since Claudio Arrau.”

“You are flattering me.” I put the foie gras into my mouth. It’s melting slowly. I think of the goose that was kept in a cage and force-fed to produce this dish. I imagine the goose must be proud of ending up in the stomach of a famous pianist. “Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to understand the sublime beauty of that piece without the master’s keen insight.”

“It was spiritual.” Serena leans forward. “When you started playing the theme of the last movement, before the variations, it was like… going back in time.” She closes her eyes. “I imagined myself a little girl… back in the South German village I grew up in. There is a little Catholic church… and the sounds of an organ. It plays those touching, divine harmonies… and there is peace in my soul. Complete peace.”

I carefully wipe my mouth with a soft napkin and approach her. My knee touches her knee. She makes a weak gesture, which sends a wave of heat through my body.

Like a vulture, my mouth lunges at hers. Prying her lips with force, my tongue plunges into her mouth, seeking to devour her will, bring it under my control. My right hand fumbles with the hooks at the back of her bra, while the left one dives under her skirt.

The attractive announcer enters the V.I.P. room. I swiftly disengage myself from Serena, who covers her face and runs out.

The announcer frowns.

“Something wrong, Mr. Horshan?”

“No, no, nothing at all. Just a fan who wanted an autograph. You know how it is.” I laugh and shake my head scornfully.

She comes closer. She looks very pretty in the bright light from the tacky golden chandelier dangling from the ceiling. Her snow-white blouse is only half-tucked into her skirt.

“What’s your name?” A heart-warming smile appears on my face.

She smiles back.

“Wang Xuerong. But you can call me Lisa.”

“Wang Xuerong is okay for me,” I tell her in Chinese. “Which rong is this? The rong of rongyu?”

She gasps.

“You know Chinese!”

I’m used to this reaction. Every time I utilize it to my advantage, putting up the same spectacle.

“I’ve been living in Shanghai for almost seven years now, Xuerong.” I try to put as much noble humility into my voice as I can. “I actually think it’s disrespectful to live in a country without knowing the first thing about its culture and traditions. Can you believe it – most foreigners don’t even know the difference between, say, Tang and Ming dynasties. They have never even heard of Zhuangzi or read the Dream of the Red Chamber.”

I can see the fascination in her eyes. She looks even prettier when she is excited.

“Mr. Horshan –”

“Call me Shlomo.” I gesture her to sit down on the sofa. When she does, I quickly pour a glass of champagne and hand it to her. She sips it.

“Thank you,” she says, her eyes glistening. “You are a very interesting person, Mr. Hor… Shlomo. I actually study medieval Chinese poetry.”

“Yes, yes.” I sit down near her, putting my hand on the back of the sofa, ready to hug her shoulders at any time. The scenario is unfolding with predictable accuracy. “Hua jian yi hu jiu… Lovely verse. But –“ I swallow hard and lower my head, in a masterful display of subdued desire. I continue in a raspy, broken voice, as if overcome by deep feeling: “– not as lovely as you are.”

I raise my head and look her in the eyes, letting that sink in. I should have chosen the acting career when I had the chance.

She looks uncomfortable. She puts her glass of champagne back on the table.

“That’s… very sweet of you. I… I think I need to leave.”

“Oh, no.” The hurt on my face is genuine. My pride is wounded, and that stings. I pull out a trump card that has worked many times before. “Xuerong… I’m sorry if I sound blunt… too direct… But that’s just me, that’s how I am… When I feel something – I speak out!” I make a cutting gesture with my right hand, to emphasize my brutal, manly honesty, while my left hand is gently squeezing her shoulder. “Xuerong…” I put on a pleading mien of misunderstood innocence. “You can’t imagine how lonely I am. It’s so hard to find a soul that feels what I feel. It’s not about the physical stuff – it’s about a union of souls… Arthur Schopenhauer writes that love is the manifestation of the will to live, serving the natural purpose of the preservation of species... When I saw you today, preparing to announce for my concert, you had that profound, intense expression

“I ate spicy Hunan food yesterday, so I had diarrhea this morning,” she explains readily.

I’m somewhat taken aback by that statement, but the train is already rolling on the rails, and can’t be stopped. I quickly recover:

“You see – I don’t mind all those things… of the body. What matters is the spirit… I saw how you were listening to my music… You really understood it. You are a spiritual person, Xuerong… and I just can’t… I can’t…” It’s time to move on to the stage of uncontrolled, unbridled passion. I shake my head, as though doubting the reality of what is happening. Then I tighten my grip on her shoulder, encircle her in my arms, close my eyes, and prepare to land a romantic, tasteful kiss on her lips.

She pushes me away and gets up.

“Mr. Horshan! I’m sorry, but that’s not… That’s not what I want. I have a boyfriend.”

A nauseating wave of angry, dark disappointment flows into my chest. It’s time to change the strategy on the spot.

I produce a lopsided, quirky grin and proceed with good-natured humor:

“Aww, those boyfriends… You know, my classmate in Israel used to say: ‘a boyfriend is just a wall, and I’m an air hammer’. Haha! It sounds funnier in Hebrew: haver ze rak kir, ve ani –”

“I’m sorry.” Xuerong interrupts. “You are a great musician, Mr. Horshan. You are amazing. And you deserve real, big love. You will have it. There are so many women

I feel my self-control loosening drastically, like a giant aircraft plunging down, ready to become a pile of deformed metal and disfigured bodies.

“Yeah, yeah, alright, just get out of here!”

I can physically sense the ugliness of my own face. Xuerong disappears behind the door. I poor myself a glass of champagne and gulp it down. I grab the bottle and drink directly from it, until there is nothing left. I turn off the light, lie down on the sofa, and close my eyes.

Somebody knocks on the door.

“Come in!” I yell.

I can hear the door creaking.

“Hello?” The voice is feeble and shaky. I flip on the light switch and sit up. A nerdy-looking youth is standing in the middle of the room.

“Who are you? What do you want?” I look at him with impatient irritation. He has a sickly, sallow complexion, and his face is generously camouflaged by acne. He exudes a steady smell of dirty socks and badly digested, cheap vinegar-soaked Guilin-style rice noodles.

“I’m so sorry, sir. I’m collecting the evidence of the near death experience for the paper, at the Jiaotong University.” The overdose of definite articles in that sentence is grating. I roll my eyes.

“What? Near death? What are you talking about?”

He looks at me with respectful fear.

“I’m suh… sorry,” he stutters. “Are you Mr. Shlomo Horshan?”

“Yes, I am. I don’t understand… Are you a fan? Do you want a free CD or something? Wait, I had one with my recent Brahms recital here somewhere…” 

“No, no,” he speaks hurriedly and smiles. “I don’t want Bolamusi. I like Xiaobang.”

“I’ve got a Chopin one too.” I smile back. “All the Etudes, op. 25. Man, the one with the sixths in both hands is a real bitch.”

He comes closer. I find his permanent grin strange and off-putting.

“You don’t understand, Mr. Horshan,” he says politely. “I’m not interested in the piano, in the music. I’m interested in the near death.”

My smile vanishes.

“Yeah, well, and I’m interested in the women with the long legs and the round buttocks.” I frown. “What near death? What the hell are you talking about?”

“Yes!” He squeaks jubilantly. “The hell! That’s exact, sir. The hell. Near death. But what happens after the death? What? Do you think… what?”

“Okay, look. Why don’t you go and… relax somewhere?”

He shakes his head so violently that I begin to wonder whether it could actually fall off his scrawny, sausage-like neck.

“I can’t relax!” He exclaims, comically beating himself on his concave chest. “You are near the death… And you need to think of what the death

Suddenly, without the slightest warning, my heart stops.

For a few seconds, I’m still aware of my surroundings. I see the weird youngster nodding gravely, looking at me with unbearable intensity. Then everything becomes dark.

Nothing.

An eternity passes.

Still nothing.

Motion.

I’m moving towards something. I can’t see anything, but I feel that I’m not alone. Millions, billions of people are moving with me through some sort of an endless tunnel.

“This must be a dream,” I try to say out loud, but I can’t speak. I have no mouth.

Then everything stops. A beam of light falls upon me. It’s the brightest light I’ve ever seen. That’s not the right thing to say – I can’t actually see this light, because I have no eyes. I just feel it. It’s much too strong. I think it’s going to burn me alive. I try to scream, but I have no lungs.

Then I hear a voice. I feel a voice. I have no ears. The voice is inside me, but it’s not mine.

“Hello, Shlomo.”

“Who are you?” I don’t need to speak, I just think.

“Names are not important. Your nearest neighbors, the Nsheos from the Proxima Centauri system, call me Big Mama. In a remote part of your galaxy, the race of G’l knows me as Thaaes, the Savior. In Narnia, I’m Aslan the lion. And here I lived and died as one of you, a carpenter’s adopted son in the Northern region of your country.”

I begin to laugh.

The laughter is not material, but it’s quite real. It fills my entire being.

“No way, dude,” I think. “This must be a stupid dream. I’ll never believe that after my death I shall be treated to a corny dialogue with some non-existent omnipotent cosmic thingamabob. Wow… Look at that. I die and I meet Jesus Christ, who tells me he also has a bunch of moronic alien names. This is ridiculous!”

“Why?” the voice asks.

“Because it can’t be, that’s why! You are a coarse metaphysical invention, a baseless hypothesis, a convenient ex machina device, a completely incomprehensible being described in contradictory terms in books written by ignorant people who had no idea about the scientific worldview.”

“Interesting,” the voice says. “I thought there was a consensus among the leading scientists – well, at least on your planet – that scientific worldview extended only to the phenomena of the perceived reality, not to what Immanuel Kant called the ‘thing-in-itself’. In plain words, no science could, or will ever be able to, answer any fundamental question such as ‘why do I live?’ or ‘what happens after I die?’”

“Oh, and I suppose you can answer that,” I think, smiling to myself.

“I am answering that right now,” the voice says.

“Really? So this is, what, the Day of Judgment?” In my mind, I spread my arms in a taunting gesture.

“Not yet.”

I feel a strong dislike of whoever the voice inside me belongs to.

“Hey, listen,” I think, poking my adversary with an imaginary finger. “I’ve heard enough of that religious crap. My Dad fed it to me ever since I was little. You’ve created all of us only to torture those of us who don’t believe in you in an eternal hell. I’ve never heard of a more sickening, disgusting doctrine.”

“Perhaps you understand it wrong, then.”

“In what way?”

“Well,” the voice says patiently. “For once, you’re wrong in assuming that I’m the one who is going to torture you.”

“So who’s going to torture me? Satan? One of your minions?”

“No. You are going to torture yourself.”

I laugh again. In my mind, the sound of my laughter is thundering and victorious.

“That’s not going to happen. No sane person wants to torture himself.”

“Then maybe you are not quite sane,” the voice says sadly. “You are torturing yourself already. You are not happy, Shlomo.”

I want to tell him that I am happy, but suddenly realize that he is right about that part.

“Then make me happy,” I mumble. “You are God, aren’t you? If you really exist, then you must be loving and almighty and all that. Let me into your heaven, or whatever you call it.”

“Of course,” he says unexpectedly. “Right away. Let’s take a tour.”

I feel surrounded by a multitude of people again. I can feel their thoughts, but I don’t understand them. They only think of each other and the owner of that voice. For some reason, that alone makes them perfectly happy. They seem busy and excited, full of fussy energy. They remind me of silly, hyperactive kids. Inside, I snort with derision.

“This is heaven?” I think, nervous laughter bursting out of my non-existent chest. “This is the epitome of nonsensical, excruciating boredom. I’m beginning to think that hell must be a better place than this.”

“There,” the voice says. “You’ve solved the mystery. You go to hell only because you don’t want to go to heaven.”

“Who’d want to go to such a heaven?” I think bitterly.

“Some do,” the voice says. “You see, heaven is like a V.I.P. room where my fans can spend an eternity with me, becoming my friends. But you are not my fan, Shlomo. I can never force you to love me. Love either exists, or it doesn’t.”

“So just because I don’t love you, your lackeys are going to cook Chinese hot pot out of me?” I think defiantly. “What kind of a cruel, sadistic being are you?”

“You misunderstand again,” the voice says softly. “Some of my fans are too eager to interpret strong metaphors a tad too literally… Nobody is going to cook you, or punish you, or do you any harm.”

“Then it will be just emptiness… an eternity without anything to live for?” I begin to feel fear creeping into my absent heart.

“What does it matter? What if I told you that hell is a place where you stuff yourself with foie gras and where dozens of lovely ladies satisfy your sexual desires day and night? Wouldn’t you get sick of that – eventually? Don’t you feel that you are already getting sick of your lifestyle, Shlomo? Now imagine engaging in it day after day, night after night, for all eternity, without any means of escape…”

I don’t have a spine, but I can swear that cold sweat is trickling down it.

“Then… no matter what happens, I’m doomed?”

“Not yet. You aren’t dead yet. You’ve met me now, and you know that I love you. All you need to do is love me back. You always have a choice, Shlomo. As long as you live. Remember that. And you have Beiduofen, Bolamusi, and Xiaobang…”

“Why are you pronouncing the names of those composers in a Chinese way?”

“Oh, that’s because –”

I wake up.

I’m lying on the sofa. Rays of daylight are storming into the V.I.P. room through the transparent curtains. The nerdy youngster is standing nearby, a pen and a heap of music sheets in his hands.

“Mr. Horshan! I’m the big fan! You my nanshen! I study the Music Conservatory… I love Beiduofen… and Bolamusi… can you please –” He tries to stick the pen into my hand.

I rise slowly. I smile broadly, my eyes shining with tremendous relief.

“It was just a dream!” I shout.

The pimpled youth nods enthusiastically.

“Dream!” he says. “You playing… is like the dream. Very good! Very okay! Nanshen!”

My being is overflowing with triumphant malice. I shove the youngster out of my way. He stumbles and falls, knocking down the glass table. The empty champagne bottle crashes onto the floor, myriads of tiny glass shards crawling over the music sheets.

I walk out through the back door. The sun is blazing. Sticky warmth of Shanghai summer engulfs me. I breathe deeply. I laugh out loud.

I take out my iPhone and send a WeChat text message to the girl I met last night after the show.

‘The moment I met you last night, something happened to me. I can’t explain that, but it’s there. I couldn’t sleep at all. Can I please meet you sometime soon? Maybe have a coffee together?’

That should work.

I feel hungry. I see a dumpling shop nearby. Fried shengjian with sauce and shrimp filling are to die for. My mouth is watering. I stroll into the dumpling shop, smiling at passers-by. They smile back at me.

Life is so good. Everything else can go to hell.

 

THE END


Submitted: October 01, 2017

© Copyright 2021 Oleg Roschin. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Jay Northearn

Another fascinating journey Oleg, full of philosophical intrigue, rich detail and ( knowing what I do about you ) life experienced references. The best I could describe the thematic power of your stories, if pushed into a corner by the Categorisation Police, is a hybrid of C.S Lewis, Philip K Dick and Harlan Ellison. There's so much you want to convey, it almost bursts out of the confines of your chosen platform, but your writing is so compelling that it explodes in a psychedelic way. Perhaps a little heavy on description in places ... perhaps, but a powerful read full of urbane and yet mystical insight. What is hell? Negation, torment, or just a personal refusal to commune with the divine? And what is Heaven? Everything we ever want, and if so, well, we're liable to get bored with everything we think we want. What an existential conundrum this story is, and how you compress so much into such a short format is like a Singularity! All in the present tense too, and that is a tough act! Great stuff. My favourite of yours so far! Keep the train going ... for the late David Bowie illustrated in one of his song lyrics for 'Angels have Gone' ( Heathen album ) - that angels have a fondness for sitting on trains. For some reason, I get that completely.

Sun, October 1st, 2017 6:14pm

Author
Reply

Thank you so much, my friend! :)) I'm so happy to receive such a wonderful comment from you. I wrote this one in just a few hours... It just came out. And I have ten or so unpublished story drafts. So I guess this one is pretty weird... and important.

I've been studying the Christian theology of afterlife for the last month or so. Looks like Eastern Orthodoxy has a noticeably less legalistically-rigid view of the afterlife than the Western tradition. The idea that hell is not a place where people are tortured by someone, but a state of remoteness from God, can be found in the writings of many classic Eastern Church Fathers.

Sun, October 1st, 2017 7:24pm

hullabaloo22

Beautifully written as always, Oleg. I'm not too keen on your Mr Horshan though. You've put so much into this; the power of music, the way a person can be....transported to somewhere else through it. But you also showed how fame can make people so cruel, so callous, so egotistical. And no, if there is a heaven, I don't think he'd fit in too well.

Sun, October 1st, 2017 6:51pm

Author
Reply

Exactly, Hully! That's the whole point :) Once I realized I wouldn't fit into heaven, I also realized something needs to be done about it, otherwise... well, as I tried to show in this story, no matter what exactly happens in hell - better try to avoid it :) Perhaps I stressed the fame too much - the story is more about bad habits than it's about corruption by fame. I only needed the latter for even bigger contrast: here's a guy who has everything - talent, fame, people's love, attention from women, all material and spiritual gifts - and yet... something terribly important is missing...

Sun, October 1st, 2017 8:03pm

TheRichAlder

This was quite unique. A good interpretation of what we value in life and what we should value in life, I mean, do we even know what we really want from life? I think that is one of the points this story pushes :)

I actually felt a little lost a times because I do not understand chinese or know much about china, hehe.

I've always read that a near death experience can change people, and that most don't know what really happened, its interesting to see that this is kind of what I imagined, people facing it as a bad dream, but being affected enough to pursue change. This was awesome.

Sun, October 1st, 2017 7:37pm

Author
Reply

Thank you for your kind feedback, Eva! You wrote "Do we even know what we really want from life?" - what a wonderful phrase, it could be an epigraph to this story. That's exactly what it's about. We all talk about happiness, but in our minds happiness is usually just good life with lots of things we like. And here we have Shlomo Horshan, who already HAS all those things - and yet he is disgusted by a heaven where people are enjoying a selfless way of life...

I know that people change from near death experience - sadly, Horshan did NOT change... He went back to his old ways. And literally condemned himself to hell with his last phrase :( But of course he can still change...

Sun, October 1st, 2017 8:09pm

jaylisbeth

Oh wow, Oleg, personally one of my favorite of yours. Your writing was top notch and on point with the descriptions

Sun, October 1st, 2017 7:57pm

Author
Reply

Thank you, Lisbeth! Glad you liked it :) Already two people said it was one of their favorites - I'm pleasantly surprised, I was afraid this one would bore the readers, since it's very... err... intimately-theological :-)

Sun, October 1st, 2017 7:56pm

Domenic lohmar

Excellent ending!! nice to see an author so clearly and concisely pointing out how many of us have life changing experiences without the consequential change. The use of Chinese translations of key classical composers really brings out the authenticity of the writing!

Mon, October 2nd, 2017 6:23am

Author
Reply

Why, thank you for your kind and insightful comment, Nick! :) You've pretty much summed it up perfectly. We keep complaining about God not talking to us, not being there - without even realizing that the problem is us, not Him... Here is a guy who actually meets God face to face - and still chooses food and sex over Him. Don't we all?.. :-(

Sun, October 1st, 2017 11:50pm

Chris Green

I' witnessing here your now familiar disdain for established genres, Oleg, this one is definitely cross-generic. What I particularly love about your stories is that through the brilliant descriptive detail you put in I always learn something. Your knowledge of music, philosophy and theology is something that shines through, not to mention language and world culture. All in all, an enjoyable ride here. Very nice work.
Regards
Chris

Mon, October 2nd, 2017 8:40am

Author
Reply

Thank you very much, Chris! :) I'm glad you liked this one. I wrote it really quickly, in just a few hours, it's probably my second quickest-composed story ever - after "The Fallout", which I wrote down in ten minutes :)

Yeah, this one is probably my most theology-heavy work so far - in fact, it just came out after a month or so of very intense study (and a lot of forum polemics! :)) of the concept of afterlife in Eastern Orthodox theology. I was amazed by the wealth of very different and sometimes contradicting opinions in what is usually viewed as the most rigidly dogmatic Christian denomination. Well, it's not :) Those 5th century Church Fathers had much more imagination and spiritual insight than some modern theologians...

Mon, October 2nd, 2017 2:00am

AJLKS

This is one heck of a masterpiece.

The premise is simple: the life and mind of a world-renown celebrity who sees the world as his oyster. However, you excellently portray the contrast between glamour and vanity, desires and addictions, fears and hopes.

Shlomo's character, while not admirable, was enjoyable is read. It even gives insights to celebrities in real life. It was interesting to see his true fears for a brief moment during the 'dream', only to return to his shenanigans afterward.

Mon, October 2nd, 2017 12:31pm

Author
Reply

Alvin, thank you so much for this review :) It's so insightfully and precisely written - anyone who reads it will definitely want to check out your work (which they should! :))

Shlomo Horshan is based on myself :( I hope that it's just myself of the past. He is more famous than I ever was, but then again, classical pianists are never THAT famous... they are not rock stars :) And it's not fame that corrupts Horshan - the favorable conditions that fame gives him only give green light to his vices...

Mon, October 2nd, 2017 6:25am

lilyphantomhive

Your writing is inspirational. It truly is. Not just because it flowed so naturally, but because each line was so captivating. And the piece itself, damn. I've no words. It goes without saying but amazing job! Whatever you do, keep writing!!

Mon, October 2nd, 2017 2:27pm

Author
Reply

Thank you so much for those kind words! I really appreciate your feedback :) If you like this one, feel free to read other short stories of mine. They are all interconnected :-) For example, "In a Grove" is the story of Shlomo's father, Prof. Tal Horshan. And "Ichthys" is the story of Shlomo's grandson. And "Nothing but the Truth" is the story of Serena Bloedtraum's... maybe grandson as well, but a relative for sure ;) And so on, the characters just keep moving from story to story... and even from planet to planet :-)

Mon, October 2nd, 2017 10:59am

B Douglas Slack

I spent an enjoyable half hour reading this, Oleg. I'm never sure what to make of your stories, but I am always entertained by the "what if" nature of them. In this case, Shlomo learned the consequences of his lifestyle and received a warning in return. I was reminded of A Christmas Carol and the conversion of Scrooge. His visit was cautionary also, but it took three ghosts to convince him, I love the way you transported it into the realm of science fiction, meeting what he perceived as God who refuted every one of Shlomo's concepts of an afterlife.

Bill

Mon, October 2nd, 2017 2:36pm

Author
Reply

Thank you for your insightful comment, Bill!

The problem is that Shlomo (like most of us) grew up with vulgarly understood and badly digested "Christian" ideas of the afterlife - namely, that an angry, cruel God "sends" people to a place called "hell" because they did something wrong. The commentaries of the Church Fathers (and, by extension, true Orthodox Christianity), unequivocally reveal that hell is much more our state of mind, our self-centered refusal to love others like ourselves, than it is a location where God just "puts" people. And Shlomo is in danger of ending up there because the alternative - an eternity with God - is not something that he himself wants...

Mon, October 2nd, 2017 10:49am

Tom Smith

Another great story Oleg. Amazing description and brilliant number of themes, paired with a great ending. Well done.

Mon, October 2nd, 2017 5:07pm

Author
Reply

Thank you, Tom! I'm glad you liked the ending. I haven't planned it - it just came out that way. I very nearly started writing an ending where Horshan gets deeply affected by his dream (or... not a dream?) and becomes a different person. But then I went for the scary ending after all :(

Mon, October 2nd, 2017 10:34am

Katherine M

That was beautiful Oleg! I love the descriptions and the twist of emotions from Mr. Horshan's elation of being thanked by the crowd to his advances on first Ms. Serena to the anger he felt for the announcers distaste at his advances. I absolutely love how heavily you described his experiences, it made me feel as though I was there with Horshan all along and discovering why he wasn't happy with life. It really does show that you could have everything material and still be unhappy. Thank you for the read request Oleg!

Mon, October 2nd, 2017 6:38pm

Author
Reply

Your comment is spot on, and very insightful, Katherine! Thank you so much!

The first part of this story is - unfortunately - not too far from real-life experiences. I guess that's what made the descriptions so "heavy" - I was basically typing down, with as much precision as I could, what really used to go through my head... :( They say that writers are always at their best when they describe something they are intimately familiar with; and we are intimately familiar with only one thing in the world: ourselves.

Mon, October 2nd, 2017 11:51am

ArthurD7000

It's kind of sad. I've heard of people who saw heaven, and others hell, and grew from the experience. The musician sees real love, probably for the first time in a long time, yet learns nothing, changes nothing, remaining the shallow hedonist he began the story as. He creates beauty but doesn't appreciate it, except as something he can take.

Mon, October 2nd, 2017 7:14pm

Author
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You've said it, Arthur. People of art are in great danger of being overcome by the kind of pride that I won't hesitate calling "demonic". The ability to create art, which God granted to us in His kindness, is - like so many other divine gifts - a coin with two sides. Art can either be the most sublime man-made thing in the world - or the gateway to hell. It can spiritually enrich a person - or have him grow an obsession with himself, a completely self-centered worldview that sees others as objects to be used for his "inspiration"... Thank you very much for your comment!

Mon, October 2nd, 2017 12:34pm

C.A. Exline

Adroitly written, Oleg, replete with astute references and interesting cultural details. This strikes me as being closer to your comfortable style than Existence. I appreciate not only the fact that you mentioned Schopenhauer and Kant, but also made references to Chuang Tzu (i.e. Zhuangzi [and I assume you were speaking of the philosopher rather than the work]), and C. S. Lewis. It illustrates a broad range of thought and influences from which to draw, rather a recapitulation of an individual text or tradition. A fascinating read.

Mon, October 2nd, 2017 8:11pm

Author
Reply

Thank you, my friend! Your feedback means a lot to me :) You are absolutely right - this was much easier for me to write than "Existence"; in fact, I wrote this down in one session, writing for just a few hours - I think the only other story that I wrote even faster was the very small, dialogue-only "The Fallout"...

There is a narrative format that it easiest for me to deal with: present tense, first person, and a morally shaky protagonist :-( The three stories I consider my strongest are written in this format: "Scarlet Beast", "The Last of the Nsheos", and this one.

I used to like Daoism, so Zhuangzi is not a stranger. And Schopenhauer's "The World as Will and Representation" was like a Bible to me for many years... Now I'm just wondering what was so appealing in a fashionable European Buddhist with a dreary worldview and a whiny tone...

Mon, October 2nd, 2017 8:00pm

KathrynAcacia

Wow! This was fantastic. I had to re-read it to try and understand. Your writing is amazingly fluid and clear, detailed without getting bogged down. I was able to get a very clear idea of who your character was even in this short piece. Thank you for such a great read!

Mon, October 2nd, 2017 8:50pm

Author
Reply

Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Kathryn, I really appreciate it!

Mon, October 2nd, 2017 8:01pm

BriannasBooks

Holy moly, this was incredible. It was quite a journey, and I was able to really get a sense of Mr. Horshan's personality, which I think is so important. You can tell that the fame has really gotten to him, even though people act like he is someone perfect because he is famous, as is what happens to a lot of celebrities. I felt almost like my heart stopped when his heart stopped, lol. I totally was not expecting that xD I loved how unique and original this story was, and had such a fantasy feel to it in the scenes where he was "dead." I almost didn't want it to be over, lol. This is an amazing story, very well done! :D

Tue, October 3rd, 2017 2:50am

Author
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Thank you so much, Brianna! I'm so glad you liked this story :) I'm not sure whether Shlomo was really dead for a while or just had a dream or a vision. The important thing is that he made his choice... the wrong one :(

In my stories, the Horshans are always making moral choices, for good or for bad. The story of Shlomo's father in "In a Grove" or his grandson in "Of Dogs and Men" are some other examples of that.

Mon, October 2nd, 2017 8:11pm

Melancholic Wisdom

Quite the interesting read, you touched up a lot of philosophical topics, as well as many different themes and elements. This story has so many layers that you'd have to come through it over and over to even begin to fully grasp it. You had quite several contrasts in there, including the one about being famous and being lonely at the same time. Overall your writing was great, character development was there, dialogue was spot on. Fantastic job

Tue, October 3rd, 2017 4:04am

Author
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Thank you so much for your kind comment, Nik! I think there is an interesting parallel between this story and your poem "Pride". In fact, they both describe a similar type of person... only yours speaks frankly, while mine is, so to say, gilded by his talent...

Mon, October 2nd, 2017 9:09pm

Harris Proctor

Oleg-

Another thought-provoking gem!

I love your main character. He has access to such beauty and grace, but he chooses the deadliest sins at every turn. He has beauty at his fingertips (pardon the pun) but uses it as a vehicle to satisfy vanity, gluttony and lust. His appreciation for history and culture remains as shallow as a pick-up line. And I have always loved the name Shlomo.

I can't help but wonder, which is more unbelievable? A God who would create an inferno of eternal punishment? Or a God who would still love such a wretch as Shlomo? I'm certain how you would answer the question. My own faith is squishier than a fresh bread pudding.

As always, thank you for sharing your superb writing. And thanks for the food for thought :)

H.P.

Tue, October 3rd, 2017 2:16pm

Author
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Thank you so much for this great comment, Harris!

The name "Shlomo" is the original Hebrew for "Solomon". I chose it because I thought of the great king who had everything we usually wish for - knowledge, talent, wealth, power, and way too much sex - and ended up writing the Book of Ecclesiastes, the most drearily pessimistic piece of the entire Bible...

I'm positive God loves Shlomo. God loves Hitler, too. The entire Christianity is a story of God's love to us. The problem is not God, the problem is Shlomo, and Hitler, and... well... a lot of us :( It's clear that Shlomo doesn't love God back. Why, he mocks Him and forgets Him right after the meeting. Now, imagine being eternally surrounded, ceaselessly bombarded by the love of a person you don't love. That would be hell, wouldn't it? Well, that's exactly what hell is... Literally. Our inability to reciprocate God's love. This is the Orthodox Christian teaching.

Tue, October 3rd, 2017 10:27pm

D. Thurmond aka JEF

Another great read Oleg. --- That place after death seems to vary, some seem to think we are already there and just don't know it.

Tue, October 3rd, 2017 5:30pm

Author
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Thank you, JEF! :) You mean - we are already in hell and just don't know it? Then I tend to agree - if this isn't the exact literal truth, then it's a pretty good metaphor. The exile of a fallen race is, indeed, a state of torment :(

Tue, October 3rd, 2017 10:34pm

FirePlague

Heaven is where we are infinitely happy, right? So how, I wonder, is it that heaven has these..stereotypical characteristics? Like happiness is different for everyone. What makes the two people around me happy, might annoy the shit out of me. Heaven isn't for everyone.
It's INSIDE everyone. Or so I'd like to think. I'm not religious i just find the little quirks that all those holy rollers forget about when they preach.

Tue, October 3rd, 2017 6:19pm

Author
Reply

I'm glad you agree with the Christian viewpoint, then! :) Which is exactly this - "The Kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21).

Regarding happiness - that, precisely, is the question I tried to work on in this story. What is happiness? Is it "getting what we want"? But what do we want? Shlomo obviously wants a lot of food and women, and he is bent on getting that. He wouldn't be interested in the "boring" heaven God offers him. But... if he just eats and has sex, day after day, in all ETERNITY - would that make him happy?.. I'm fairly certain that would be a rather horrible torment.

So you see, not only are we very confused about what we want - we are also determined to want certain things which, in the end, don't bring us happiness at all.

I wouldn't know anything about the "holy rollers" you mention, or what they preach about. I don't quite understand whom you mean by that. My presentation of heaven in this story is, of course, a fruit of my own imagination, but I dare say it's not dissimilar to Orthodox Christian views :)

Tue, October 3rd, 2017 10:47pm

A. K.Taylor

Since so many have commented so eloquently on this work, I feel that my addition to it would be diminished by my perceived knowledge of Theology, God, and the afterlife. I can, in fact, relate an experience that may be similar but without the sights and sounds that many experience as a near death experience. I once held my breath too long trying to get rid of an incredible bad case of hiccups that I passed out. If My mom hadn't noticed me in time I would've fallen backwards hitting my head on the edge of the sink and possibly died. She actually pushed me into the wall redirecting my body to slump down and against the sink cabinet and wall. I woke up wondering what the hell happened.

The whole point is during the whole amount of time i was oxygen deprived I never saw any light, any relatives, any anything. It was just like falling asleep, but no dreaming. Just a void of darkness without any thought or sound. i remember seeing the darkness, but I don't recall any thoughts or feelings while I was there. It's hard to say if I experienced anything really, but I took it as an experience that was just a product of lack of oxygen to the brain.

I wish I could say something inspiring and thought felt about this piece, but it just reminded me of that moment. It was still an interesting and entertaining read, Oleg. Religious inspired pieces may cause me to think, but they don't motivate my self to be better. They become learning lessons, fables, and parables that help us understand ourselves better. This could very well be the Parable of Schlomo Horshan in the distant future. Nice work, Oleg.

Tue, October 3rd, 2017 10:20pm

Author
Reply

Thank you so much for your feedback, Jamey, and thank you for sharing this experience you had! I've never experienced anything comparable - well, getting knocked out during an operation, but it's hardly the same thing. Near death experience is different for everyone, some remember things, some don't - though the amount of testimonies describing a tunnel and a light is still remarkably high. Usually people also describe seeing their own body, hearing the conversations taking place near it, and other interesting things.

The thing is, my story is indeed more of a parable. In fact, I doubt Shlomo had a near death experience, since he probably fell asleep on the sofa right away, so the first visit of the mysterious youngster and the subsequent heart attack were part of the dream. It's only a dream, nothing to worry about, let's go back to our old ways... Hmm... :()

Tue, October 3rd, 2017 11:00pm

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