In the end, all will be bright as day.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Another flight of fancy about the limits of human experience.

She found herself walking along a track of railroad in the predawn light of a cool swift sunrise. The first sunbeam of the morning’s radiance glanced across a cluster of dew drops, hanging like pearls on a gossamer screen, suspended in a nearby tree. That radiant stream shattered a million different ways, making the tree glisten with gleams of glory—if only for a moment.

“Beautiful,” she remarked to herself in a hushed tone. A smooth dulcet tone, betraying youth and vitality in the midst of her awe.

The glittering scene slowed her to a snail’s pace, before she stopped completely. Delicate parted lips of wonder hung on a fresh face of caramel skin. A soft chin ever so slightly lifted. A contemplative cranium, ever so slightly tilted. She gazed with graceful glad eyes at the sight before her.

“What kind of tree do ya think that is?” she asked someone beside her. Someone who wasn’t there. Someone who had never been there.

After a moment of confusion, staring into the empty air to her right, she turned back to the tree. And there she saw someone. Someone who hadn’t been there before. He just seemed to pop into existence, right in the middle of the glittering sunlight, precariously perched on a golden bough.

With a furrowed brow of perpetual disbelief, she sauntered forward. Her eyes were fixed on the tree, and the man in the tree, like fresh honey on warm bread. So entranced was she by the sight that she nearly tripped over the track as she meandered slightly in her dazed march.

“Hello there!” the man called out as she came sufficiently close. A most curious man who inspired her curiosity. At first on account of his sudden appearance, and now on account of his… curious appearance. A man with a wide bright smile, surrounded by a halo of hair on his scraggly yet handsome face, topped by an old worn out top hat. Two long legs draped in brown corduroy. The pants had the look of being brighter at some point, perhaps a shade of yellow, but time and rugged use had worn them out to their present dull dusty hue. Darkest of all were two scuffed up black shoes, which conversely looked like they would be darker but for years of labor and trek.

The man kicked and dangled his feet like a toddler in a high chair. A high chair that in this case was nearly six feet off the ground. Protruding from that thick wooden tree limb was an unusually straight branch. And some kind of cluster at its end.

When she got a little closer, she could see that that cluster was actually a bindle. A polka-dot bag bobbing up and down on an old stick in the man’s grubby hand.

“Vicky, right?” the man asked before sliding off the branch and flopping down to the ground with a strange kind of silly grace, plopping with a comical kind of jostling like the trained pratfall of a circus clown who tumbles with a finesse designed to look uncoordinated, when it is anything but.

“Do… do I know you, mister?”

“Only in the day time,” the man replied with a hearty laugh.

His words reminded her of space and time, and how out of both she now felt. She slowly turned about and surveyed her surroundings, momentarily forgetting the strange man. An empty flat desert for miles all around, punctuated only by the railroad track and the solitary tree. A subtle breeze blew in her ears. Far off the hazy purple outline of mountains broke up an otherwise clear blue sky. Wisps of dust blew across the landscape once or twice forming whirling dust devils in the distance.

“Do you… know… how I got here?” she asked at last.

“Not sure if here is the right name for it, but I guess it’s as good as any. It’s certainly how it seems, and ultimately the line between seeming and being… well, but I guess I’m… getting off track.” The man darted his eyes to the nearby railroad ties and chuckled.

“I think that I was… somewhere else. Just a moment or two ago. Was I?” This last question was one she asked mostly to herself. In any case, the man didn’t bother to answer it—at least not directly.

“It’s best not to think too much of it. That’s all gone now. The train only goes one way and all.”

“The train?”

“Right. The train. We have to catch up to it if we’re going to get anywhere.”

The man seemed strangely familiar. Whether it was that, his bright smile and charisma, or something else, before she even really thought about it, she was following him down the tracks. It was already like noon at this point. The sun somewhere out of sight with bright blue all around and the heat of a summer’s day. But she didn’t really think about that either.

“Where are we goin’ exactly?” the woman asked.

“The station of course.”

“Right, of course,” she remarked with a nod, feeling a little silly for a second as though it was perfectly obvious. But then with a furrowed brow she remembered that none of this made much sense. “Wait… but where are we headin’ from there? Which station is it? Where are we right now? How did I get—”

“Vick, Vick Vick…” the charming hobo called out with a calming tone as he turned around and grabbed her shoulders, gazed into her eyes, and gave her a disarming smile. A subtle aroma of cheap aftershave lingered in the air. “Do you always need to know where you’re going before you get there?”

“Well, I suppose not, I mean… wait… I mean, yes! Yes, I do need to know where I’m gettin’! How do I know I’m goin’ the right way? I don’t even know where I am!”

“Vick…” the man said with a sigh. “You’ve never truly known where you’re going nor where you’ve been. All of you. I’ve been leading you around for some time. At this point there’s only one way to go.”

“Which way’s that…?”

“Forward of course! I told you the train only goes one way.”

“Who… are you, anyways? You never introduced yourself, sir.”

“Heh, so I need an introduction now, eh? Alright, well… I’ve been given many names. What do you want to call me?”

“Your surname’s just fine. Unless you prefer me to call you by your Christian name. Seems that’s in vogue these days with you… you…” She drifted off, unsure what she was going to say next, but whatever it was she felt it was something that would give her pause. And so she did pause, and looked down at her hands. Smooth delicate hands with smooth nails to match.

When she looked back up, he was marching forward again. Briskly waltzing along the track, while whistling a tune. She instinctively ran after him.

“Hey!” she exclaimed before catching her breath and coming to his side. “You never told me where we are exactly.”

“I come here often when I’m asleep. Not that I ever actually sleep exactly.”

“What…?”

“It shouldn’t be long now.”

“Until the station?”

“Exactly.”

She decided to stay silent. The conversation hadn’t been exactly productive and now some things were coming back to her. Things she could use some time to think about. And so she gazed off to the horizon in contemplation as her strange companion continued to whistle jauntily beside her.

“Is this…” she began, her own voice giving her a little start. Partly because she had simply been silent for so long and partly because she knew the next words she was about to ask. Words which were startling to think about. “Is this a dream or am I… am I… dead?”

He stopped dead in his tracks. He put one foot on the railing and took off his top hat, its ripped top flapping in the breeze, and wiped some sweat from his brow. “So now we come to that, eh?”

She responded silently with a gulp.

“What is a dream but the life you live when you’re dead to the world? I think drawing such points of distinction is a bit arbitrary, isn’t it?”

“Ah codswallop! Mister, can you not give a gosh darn straight answer to nothin’?”

“Straight and curved comes down to the scale of your perspective ultimately.”

She sighed, and gave up again. They continued on. Treading along in silence. The only sound a soft but warm breeze fluttering, the mix of gravel and clay near the tracks crunching under their feet, the occasional fly buzzing by, and their own personal little noises. Regular puffs of breath. Fabric swishing with itself. The indistinct little janglings of whatever was inside the hobo’s bindle.

“You can call me Ray if you’d like,” the man finally said, interrupting the silence without stopping or looking back. A sudden surprise that gave her a little jolt inside.

A moment more of silence passed before the woman spoke up, herself. “How do you know my name, Mister Ray?”

“In case you don’t remember yet… yes. You did die. I just thought it’d be better for you to recall that yourself.”

“Thank you for finally answerin’ what I asked before. Do ya think you could answer what I’m askin’ ya now?”

“They’re related, you see…” he remarked wistfully, still facing forward, marching steadily if a little lazily. His swaggering amble made his corduroy blazer swish around floppily and the top of his top hat flap in the breeze. “How do you think you know anything at all?”

“Are you questionin’ my education, sir?”

He let a soft laugh out of his nose and shook his head. “Not in the least, Victoria. But I can feel why you would take it that way. You felt the need to prove yourself. That you were already judged on the account of the way you look. Your mixed ancestry. Never completely fitting in. Always standing out. Some may have made it an excuse to live as a victim. To retreat away from the world. Fortunately your father—”

“You talk about me like you know me!” she interjected with a fair amount of furor. “Just who the hell are you, and why have you been up in my business?”

He turned around to her and gave her a soft smile. That same disarming smile from before, but a little more sorrowful this time around. She swore she saw a spark twinkle in his eye.

“It’s your turn to shine, Vick. My light’s bright back in the world we both know. But out here, it’s the other way around. I can see your whole life laid out as clear as day. It’s blinding in fact. The more you remember the easier it is for me. But… that’s gonna take a little more time yet, I know.”

“Mister Ray, you sure like to talk in riddles. I wish you’d come around to makin’ sense.”

“Right, the Logos and all. There will be time for that too. You should just know that it’s not at all what you’re expecting. The sooner you come to expect the unexpected, the easier this will be… for the both of us.”

Before long, the empty desert faded into a greener landscape of creosote, desert broom, and other shrubs. Mesquite trees and palo verdes steadily appeared on the horizon as they marched forward. The quiet stillness from before was replaced with the subtle swish of little twigs and leaves in the breeze, along with the occasional rustle of some unseen little creatures crawling through the low-lying vegetation. Another sound creeped up from the silence, growing louder and louder until it threatened to drown out all the others. The buzzing rasping whir of cicadas. A smell wafted up along with it. The lovely fresh aroma of…

“Rain. Huh, it smells like…” she started to remark and then looked up. Somehow, it escaped her notice. A massive thunderhead rolling over the distant mountains like a lumbering puffy giant. A dark blue sheet of rain pouring over remote foothills.

“Nothing quite like rain in the desert, eh?”

“Yeah…” she whispered. Rain in the desert. The thought of it stirred her heart. And she wasn’t quite sure why.

“It shouldn’t be long now.”

When they finally arrived at the train station, she heard it before she saw it. Rising up from the surrounding mesquite trees and creosote bushes was a quaint little brick building with an awning stretching out to the track. The sound of steady rain cooling a hot tin roof. They rushed toward the sound and sought shelter beneath it.

Empty wooden benches lined the far wall of the little building. Two or three trash cans made of metal strips painted green sat empty near the support columns of the awning. The scent of wet wood wafted through the air from the planks of pine comprising the little elevated floor beneath their feet.

“Shall we enter?” he asked, removing his old hat and brushing his damp hair with his fingers.

“Heh, you sure it’s open?”

“Quite sure,” he said with a warm smile. “Just remember what I told you before.”

“What?”

“Expect the unexpected…”

He pulled the old creaking wood door open with one hand, held his top hat in the other, and gave a little bow like the doorman of an old hotel. She snorted at his gesture and made her way through the little portal to gasp as soon as she entered.

A massive arena like space filled with a massive crowd to match. The size of the space and the hustle and bustle was more fitting to Grand Central, even grander in fact. It didn’t accord with the quaint little structure she saw outside at all. And stranger still was the fact that there wasn’t a brick in sight. Sheer white walls. Transparent escalators. And some sights she wasn’t even sure what she was seeing.

She turned and almost ran back out the door when she saw one of the non-human travelers waltzing about that space. A creature like an overgrown frog walking about on two legs like a man, clothed in some kind of tunic, chittering and croaking to its apparent companion. She didn’t get very far, however, when her hobo acquaintance grabbed her shoulders and gazed into her eyes.

“Vicky, it’s okay…”

His warm smile somehow stopped her thoughts and gave her a moment of calm. But only a moment. She shook her head and pushed his hands away. “You gotta tell me what’s going on right now, mister, and it better be good. No-none of this makes sense!”

“I’ll try, I really will…” he said with a nod and a slow blink. He then gestured her to turn and consider the crowd. “This is objective space. It’s created by consensus. Much like the space you know—or the time for that matter. It can’t be like where we were, anymore than waking can be like dreams.”

“You sayin’ we was dreamin’?”

“No, not exactly. Again, these distinctions of yours…” he said with a sigh.

“Vicky?” a man called out from the crowd.

“Oh thank the blue giants!” Ray exclaimed with an eye roll and a sigh of relief.

The sound of the man’s voice sent a shock down her spine. She knew that voice. But it couldn’t be… could it?

“Clarence…?”

“Vicky! I’m comin’, just a hold on!” he called back. A half dozen yards away or so, a tall man in a sailor’s uniform made his way through the crowd toward her.

Her breath quickened its pace, and her heart beat to match. “Oh my lord, oh my lord…”

A lump filled her throat and tears filled her eyes. Soon they embraced, and their tears fell just like the rain outside the door. Or at least her door. Apart from her tears, his own uniform was dry. She didn’t know it, but he had just come in from a lighthouse by the sea.

“Clarence! H-how long have you been waiting for me?”

“Waiting? I just got here, sis!”

“But… but you…” She started to sob. He pulled her in until she could catch her breath.

“It sure’s been a long tour, I know.”

“No. No, Clarence. You don’t remember what happened?”

“What do ya mean, sis?”

“You was just a baby out on that boat,” she said, wiping more wet drops from her eyes. “You… never made it back. That was…” She paused thinking to herself. “That was some 70 years ago.”

“Oh… my… wha-what… I…” Clarence muttered in confusion. His eyebrows then relaxed and he nodded. “Right, yes. Floodin’ in the engine. We… couldn’t get out…”

He finally turned to his sister and saw her as she was in the end. Rather than the youthful soul she felt inside, he saw the wears and tears of time. The many folds of thin skin. The hair which had lost its color long ago. Trembling arthritic fingers stretching out from bony limbs. But in her pure crystal eyes, he recognized her. His baby sister.

“Oh, sis…” He reached out and hugged her frail frame. “Seems it’s you’s been waitin’ lot longer than me.”

“Ahem,” Ray spoke up. “Sorry to interrupt, but I think it’s about time I take my leave.”

Victoria gave him a warm smile and a nod. A youthful woman again. A thought then flashed across her face. “But… where do we go from here?”

“Just take the stairs up there on the right. You’ll know where to go from there.”

She nodded again. “Thank you, Mister Ray.”

“You’re more than welcome.”

“Say… don’t I recognize you?” Clarence asked Ray.

“Maybe. I haven’t quite gotten there yet, but I’m sure I will. Or at least a part of me will. Anyhow, I’ll be on my way now.”

As he exited the door back out into the rain, Clarence turned to Victoria. “He looks just like the ferry man who brought me to this tower.”

And so at last Ray went his way to render aid to other lost souls… Namely everyone. Including you. We’re all a little lost in life, aren’t we? Normally I don’t get a chance to talk to you directly, although I’m always not far from any one of you. Well… from my perspective anyhow. Whirling around there in the dark. I’m grateful to shed a little light your way.

Time’s different from my perspective, but still limited. And so I’ll leave you with one final thought. (It’s in the title.)


Submitted: October 16, 2021

© Copyright 2022 Jonathan E. Lee. All rights reserved.

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Different Vessels

An exploration of the human condition through the lens of a man at odds with his own forgotten past. A tale intended as entertaining as it is thought-provoking. Traverse across the mysterious landscape of a man's soul in this SciFi adventure.

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Poetshri

Uniquely, you have written an after-life experience. It was amusing to see aliens in that place. After all, we are just a tiny drop in the Brahmaanda (universe). I loved the beginning of the story. You have wonderfully described the dawn. Then, the transition was cool. At first, I thought, she had time-traveled to the wild west era. Finally, she met her long-lost brother. Blood is thicker than water, isn't it? Totally, I loved this story. Thank you for sharing, Lee. :)

Thu, November 25th, 2021 10:23am

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