Monday, October 31, 2005
THE FINAL CHALLENGE
The annoying reverberation ended with a flash of blinding light, which caused everything to start moving in a circular fashion. The dizzying motion got faster and faster, sowing a queasy feeling in his innards. Nausea took full control when he felt an odd sensation of sliding and soaring at the same time.
The torment ended as abruptly as it had started when an indescribable bliss slowly coated his whole being to give him back his composure. But it took him a little while to recover his bearings and open his eyes to a pleasant and refreshing face.
“Who are you?” the simple query was impregnated with questions that was bugging his mind.
“I have no name,” said the calm voice, “but you can call me by any name that may please you.”
“Is this some kind of a sick joke? I’m warning you, don’t meddle with me or you’ll be sorry.” He knew it was an empty threat but it was the best he could muster to appear intimidating so as to camouflage his own intimidation.
“Relax, I’m here to help you.” The statement sounded reassuring enough.
“Who are you? Where am I?” The intrepid stance became less convincing upon realizing that they were both talking without opening their mouths.
“Relax, Jake, no need to panic,” the smiling face transformed into a serious one. “You need not be scared.”
“I’m not scared!” Jake’s quivering voice betrayed his true emotions and he quickly tossed a rejoinder to further strengthen his ultimate bluff. “Don’t you know that I don’t fear anyone?”
“I know,” there was firmness in the response. “Everything about you is recorded here,” a book, as if by magic, instantaneously materialized in his hand.
Complete silence reigned for a few moments as if to give Jake enough time to weigh his options. Suddenly remembering what had happened before, he touched his throbbing head to see the fresh blood drip from his hand. And his survival instinct prodded him to employ diplomacy.
“I’m sorry,” Jake calmly surrendered with a shrug. “I didn’t mean what I said. Just help me, please, I was shot in the head and I may bleed to death.”
“You’re not listening, are you? Come on, concentrate and focus your energy on reality.” It sounded more like a command than a suggestion, shaking off the lingering confusion.
Jake touched his head again but not even a single drop of blood could be seen on his hand. He squinted to squeeze more concentration from his fatigued mind.
“I’m already dead, am I not? This is heaven and you are Saint Peter, right?” The feathery surroundings turned from bland to pink, sweet scents of scattered flowers filled his nostrils and the young man in front of him transformed into a wise-looking and aged one with a white beard for added effects.
“As I said, you don’t have to be scared.” With that, that old man faded despite Jake’s pleas. And before confusion could set in again, Jake’s thoughts involuntarily went back to his not so glorious past.
Even as a small boy, Jake was already a rebellious son, the least afraid of parental spankings and reprimands. He had tried all the vices available at age ten and left his family for good to escape his father’s wrath. Jake first joined a gang of thieves and gamblers before finding a permanent home in the company of illegal drug peddlers.
Serving as courier for several years, he gained headway upon knowing the drug business inside out, rising to become a street boss and eventually a drug wholesaler before his adulthood. To him, police raids were just as natural as rain, handling each arrest with his diplomatic prowess. He came to the point where he could bribe almost anybody in the police force including some high government officials in the province.
The prevalence of illegal drugs resulted in countless robberies with occasional deaths due to gang wars and suicides. Lives were ruined and homes were broken. To further his empire, Jake sowed fear in the minds of the corrupted youth, whose future he had destroyed, and blatantly ignored the anger in the hearts of the grieving parents.
Once there was a model student named Albert who organized an anti-drug campaign in school. The crusade was nipped in the bud when Albert was kidnaped by Jake’s henchmen and was subjected to the so-called “forced addiction.” Held captive, he was forcibly introduced to the dreaded vice for one whole week. And failing to handle the irony of his predicament, Albert turned suicidal a few days after his homecoming.
Albert reached the hospital alive but remained in critical condition due to the deep laceration in his left wrist. His enraged father exhausted all means to uncover the perpetrators behind his son’s pitiful condition, leading him to Jake’s lair. A heated argument ensued and a lone gunshot ended the confrontation.
“Is everything clearer now?” Jake’s reminiscing was interrupted by the sudden appearance of the old man. Before Jake could utter a word, the old man waved a hand and two cloud-like mountains of almost the same size emerged before them. “You can make out the colors for your distinction,” the old man added.
Instantly the first mountain turned whiter than white and the other one became darker than dark. Both mounds looked like composites of tiny droplet-like particles. Jake blinked twice, an indication that no further explanation is needed, albeit he was the one who did the explaining.
“Well,” Jake began, “The white mass, composed of good souls that have left earth, is God. And the contrasting heap is the evil one where bad souls are provided their final resting place. The afterlife...” Jake wasn’t able to continue for he was startled by a roar of laughter.
“Excuse me but your worldly ways sound funny to me,” the old man chuckled some more. “Let’s be a little technical if you don’t mind, okay?”
“Oh, all right,” Jake responded sheepishly.
“That,” the old man pointed to the white mountain, “is the positive pile and the other one is the negative. From time to time, an indefinable amount of particles, but always equal in number, goes down for the required developmental process. When an individual particle’s performance reaches the passing mark, it consolidates itself with the positive pile when it returns while the rotten ones enlarge the negative pile.”
“I was quite right then,” Jake boastfully intoned as a tiny chunk in the dark pile slowly magnified. He glanced questioningly at the old man when the individuality of the particles became distinct.
“Can’t you recognize, you know them all, don’t you?” The magnification continued, making the individual particles superimposed and more distinct. “That’s you and the group on the upper portion were the ones who committed murder and suicides. Those on the farther left did unforgivable crimes and the few at the bottom almost made the mark if not for your bad influence.”
“That many?” Jake felt extreme humiliation when the old man nodded in reply. “But for sure it’s not all my fault. You see, my clout was not that great so as to ruin their destinies.”
“Now, hear this one out.” He seemed to be unmindful of Jake’s defensive contention. “Do you know what will happen when the negative pile gets dangerously large?”
“No. What?” Fear was evident in Jake’s voice.
“It will eat up the entire positive pile,” the old man made the motion of opening a fist, “the poof!”
“You mean, everything will be gone?”
“Let’s just say that creation was a means to satisfy an end. And that end can be either way. When the negative pile prevails, everything will be put to rest by simply vanishing. But if the positive pile wins the eternal game of perfection is then attained in the truest sense of the word.”
“Is there a way to ensure the continuous growth of the white pile?” Jake was nervously staring at the black pile that seemed to loom its threatening size over the white one.
“Yes, no or maybe. Ask yourself, Jake.”
“Someone has to do something. We can’t let everything perish just like that. What do you say?” Genuine fear stabbed Jake’s heart with the impending threat of complete eradication for alive or dead, the most important thing to him is the retention of his consciousness.
“Figure it out yourself, I’m out of commission right now.”
“But I’m already dead. What can I do, communicate with the necromancers and tell them about the problem? Or maybe I can be a guardian angel for the lost souls on earth. Certainly there’s a way to prevent that universal disaster.”
“You have all of eternity to make a plan and put it to work.” With that, the old man disappeared again and the surroundings slowly faded. Jake was still at a loss when the dizzying sensation coupled with the sliding motion came back to haunt him. He tried to fight the wave of confusion by opening his mouth and screaming.
“Good God, he’s coming to.” The faint voice pierces Jake’s ears, forcing him to open his eyes. But the reigning confusion is aggravated by several faces he had never seen before. And these faces are all smiling at him.
Jake squints at the glaring light and moves his hand with great difficulty. A man in white comes near him and presses something on his chest while a young woman, also in white, is fixing the position of his head. An older woman keeps on holding his hand and is uttering something not audible enough for him to understand.
Jake tries his best to stay calm by loosening his squinting eyebrows and eyelids. The door opens with the entry of a man whose face looks familiar to Jake who is now licking his lips and letting out a wry smile to comfort himself from the confusion. The older woman approaches the man with the familiar face whose query causes Jake to search for the panic button.
**** This story was first published in Philippine Panorama, April 2000