When most people smell any kind of smoke, they instantly assert it with danger, because as the saying goes, “Where there is smoke, there is fire.” Anyone who's been burned can openly vouch for the dangers of fire. Roald Amundsen, however, was quite familiar with the smoke he was smelling, and asserted it with comfort and safety, because it was the distinct smell of his favorite brand of cigar. As comforting as it was though, it puzzled him. The last thing you expected to experience after crashing into the ocean was the smell of a cigar.
He had just began trying to figure out how he could possibly be smelling a cigar when it occurred to him that he wasn't swimming either. He wasn't even wet. He didn't hurt anywhere. In fact, he felt quite good. Dying in a watery plane crash wasn't anything like he had expected it to be. Roald was still quite sure he should be swimming, though.
“Why are you waving your arms about like that,” said a deep voice from in front of Roald.
The question seemed quite absurd to ask of a man who was surely drowning to death. “I'm trying to swim,” Roald answered, all the while hoping sea water would not wash into his mouth.
“I'm rather certain you need to be water in order to swim.” The voice's tone dripped with ill humor.
“Well, I'm in an ocean. Does that count?” Roald was quickly tiring of the voice's ignorance about the matter at hand. When a person was drowning in an ocean, they swam. It made perfect sense. There was no need to question the matter.
“Are you now? Open your eyes and see this ocean of your own creation. I'm sure it is quite not what you expected.”
Roald was about to return a witty remark when he realized the voice was quite right. His eyes were closed. It seemed silly he had not noticed before, but sure enough, around him there was only darkness. He began opening his eyes, and found it to be a rather difficult endeavor. “My eyes hurt. Why does it feel so strange to open my opens? Have I gone blind?”
“No! Not at all. It is quite impossible for you to be blind. Your eyes hurt because it is the first time you have used them. It is definitely an odd sensation to feel at a mature age such as ours, but it passes rather quickly. Come now, it is time for you to see your ocean in which you claim to swim.”
Having no idea what the voice meant by using his eyes for the first time, Roald ignored the comment as his blurry vision began to focus. The dark blob before him took the shape of a man wearing a rather nice looking suite, and behind him were curtains of a crimson red. He scanned the room for some sort of answer, but ended up only further confused. The room itself was small, and all the walls were covered in the crimson red curtains. A black piano sat off to one corner, accompanied by it's matching stool. There was only one door, and it was a solid black, save the doorknob which was gold. The floor was a bright white marble, blackened only where the shadows casted. “Well, I don't see an ocean,” mumbled Roald.
“I figured you would not! Perhaps it is an appropriate time to quit swimming?”
Roald realized he was still waving his arms about and stopped. He focused his gaze on the middle aged man who sat before him. The man was wearing a fine black suit, accompanied by a rediculously tall tophat. The man himself was quite gaunt, and lanky. Somehow, he seemed quite familiar. “Where am I? I thought I was in a plane... crashing into the ocean.”
“Oh, if only I had a penny for every time someone asked me that question. 'Where am I?', 'Who are you?', and some times, 'Who am I?'” The man seemed quite calm and pleased with himself, despite Roald's disorientation.
“Honestly now, what is going on? I was in a plane that had electrical failures, and we were crashing into the ocean. I should have been killed on impact, or drowned to death in the least. I am fairly certain cigars and pianos are not part of either.”
“Well, I guess if you really want to drown to death, I could probably arrange that later, but for now just appreciate you are alive and well. Look, I even brought you your favorite cigar and lit it for you, and you have yet to touch it. I'm sure you have a hundred questions and more, but for now just take it slow. All your answers will come in time.”
“Oh, well, alright.” Roald decided he did not trust the man, but he also decided he could not pass up his favorite cigar. After taking a few puffs of his cigar, he reclined and asked, “So I am not hurt, and I'm not drowning to death.” After seeing the man nod slightly, he continued, “Well, I guess a logical deduction would say I am in heaven. Between the plane crash, your comment about me using my eyes for the first time, and the fact my leg does not hurt for the first time in forty years, that sounds about right. Though to be honest, I did not expect there to be smoking in heaven. You know, with health risks and all.”
The man let out a quick nasal laugh and said, “I do not imagine there is smoking in a true heaven, but then again this is not a true heaven, at least as far as I know... and no, before you assume this is hell, it is not. Once you feel ready, we need to leave. Keep in mind your legs have not been used, so it will be awkward for you walk.”
Roald glanced down at his legs, and began putting weight on them. It was a dream come true to be able to stand without his left leg feeling as if it had a knife through it. Since he had broken it all those years ago, it had never been of much use, but now it was perfect, if a little wobbly. “Lead the way,” he blurted in a attempted cheery manner. “I know you said no questions, but can I get your name? It does not seem proper going about as strangers. Mine is Roald.”
The man turned and smiled. “Mine is Abe. Pleased to meet you, Roald.”
“Likewise.” Roald still felt like he knew this man from somewhere, and the urge to ask had been growing. He followed Abe to the black door with the golden doorknob, and watched as he opened it. The door swung outward to reveal a very large room. It had the same white marble flooring, but that was all the two rooms had in common. The new room also had marble walls, and marble pillars. It's roof expanded so far upward, Roald was almost sure it was some kind of illusion. It was as if a skyscraper had been made hollow. The only reason he was sure he wasn't looking at the sky was because of the lights hanging down by iron chains. About every ten feet a ring of candles circled the chains, from ceiling to about head's height in the room. It was an amazing sight.
Abe closed the door behind him and headed for the center of the room. The circular design of it centered around a gold panel in the floor, which appeared to be rotating. It seemed quite odd, but then again so did everything else. Roald followed in silence. “You know Roald, I have been here for longer than I can account for. I have heard more stories, more threats, more questions, and more insults than any one man should. You see, I was the greeter. I was asked to greet others as they came here, show them this platform, and explain to them how to leave. At first I saw it as an honor, but now I see it was nothing more than a curse and a burden. I should probably shake your hand, you know.”
Roald took a step back at the sudden offer, and put on a confused face. “And why is that, Abe?”
“Because you're the last. You're the last person I will ever have to greet here. I am done, and now we leave together. I must admit I am quite excited, as should you be,” Abe finished, as he stepped up on to the golden, rotating platform.
“Oh, well, good then. I am rather ready to leave this place, though I should probably ask where we are going. I do not guess you would know though, would you? You know, having never left yourself and all.” Roald felt like he was making quite a mess of the otherwise exciting moment.
Abe extended his hand and helped Roald up on to the platform, shuffling his feet enough to compensate for the golden platforms rotation. “You would be correct. I have no idea where we're going. You see, I was the first to show up here. In the middle there was a man who asked me to greet those who came. I was to tell them to everything was alright, and all they had to do was stand on this platform, and they would be receive all their answers shortly there after. Sure, it sounds like a easy job, but you must understand, I was the first. You are the last. Between us, there have been billions.”
Roald was not sure he had heard that right. “Wait, so you are saying you've done this billions of times?” That did not even seem possible.
“Quite right. From what I've learned, every time someone dies, they end up here. When they died or how they died is irrelevant. I may greet a man who died in the 1600's, and a man who died in the 3000's the next moment. It seems that they all end up here eventually, some just faster or slower than others. Like I said, I am the first and you are the last.” His tone of voice carried about it an air that made Roald feel far more comfortable than it should have.
“That seems highly unlikely, and rather odd, but I guess so does smoking a cigar in a marble palace after dying in a watery plane crash. If what you are saying is true, when did you die? I died on June 20th, 1928.” Roald had never expected to ask a man when he died.
“I died on April 15th, 1865.”
The pinwheels inside Roald's head clicked, and he suddenly realized who his companion was. It had been obvious from the very start. “Dear Lord, I never thought I would meet a president. Wow, talk about impressive. Sorry about the whole getting shot thing, that must have sucked. You were doing so much for the country.” It was still hard for Roald to believe, even after the look of confirmation appeared on his friend's face.
“Yes, it was rather unfortunate, but I've had more time to think it over than I should have. I have come to peace with it, and if you do not mind, I would like a small reprieve from our conversation,” said the tall man as he measured the rotating platform with his eyes, centering himself upon it. He looked up and saw the expression on Roald's face, and added, “Sorry if I seem rude, but I have just greeted every human being that has ever been born back to back, non-stop, in a timespan that much have stretched a millennium. I am quite tired of talking, and have been looking forward to this moment for quite some time,” he finished, and waved Roald towards him.
Roald centered himself next to the former president, wondering how he was supposed to leave a room with only one door which lead to another dead end. He was answered almost immediately.
“Up,” shouted Abe. The golden platform beneath them jolted upwards so quickly it caught both of them off guard. They had climbed nearly ten stories before Abe's echo reached them, and even it seemed slow compared to the platform.
As exciting as the event was, Roald couldn't help but notice the speed of the platform had put out his cigar, so he tossed it off. He thought he was flying much to soon for a man who had just died in a plane crash, but he decided that the situation was far to awe inspiring to bother pointing that out just yet. He glanced over at Abe, who now had tears streaming from his eyes. They dropped much faster because of the speed at which they were going, but Roald did not think the pain and joy behind them would be washed away as quick. Greeting every last human had to have been tedious beyond imagining. Sure there were a lot of people who would have no doubt gone pleasantly on to the platform when asked... but how did you work up the courage to tell Hitler or Jesus what to do? If the man's amazing term in office had not won Roald's respect, his greeting assignment certainly had.
“It is everything I had hoped for, Roald! The sensation of flying upwards! The candles soaring past us! The wind blowing my hair! It is truly wonderful! Oh, I thought this moment would never come! It is beautiful!” Abe's voice was over flowing with emotion, and combined with it's low pitch, it made for a horribly eerie sound. The man raised his arms and flung off his suit's coat, which slammed to the floor, and blew off as fast as the cigar had.
Roald, who had spent a good deal less time in the room below, was not as excited about hurdling upwards toward a closed ceiling. Under normal circumstances, he probably would have been worried about slamming into the top and dying, but seeing as how is first experience with death turned out rather well, he was fairly calm. He had just realized he was “life after death” when he began wondering what came after “life after death.” Roald looked over at Abe again, who was still lost in a torrent of joy. He hoped whatever awaited them was something spectacular beyond measure, because anything less would have been a step down for his friend, the former president.
“Death is indeed the road to awe,” whispered Roald, as they continued soaring upwards.
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