Wednesday, 28 October 2009

1. The Sceptic

I closed my eyes waiting for the impact, and the thought flashed through my mind, ‘This is it! It’s over’. But the sickening thud never came. I found myself surrounded by a whitish gray mist, in which after a moment I could vaguely discern moving shapes. The lorry must have swerved to avoid me, and for some reason I couldn’t quite work out at present the summer afternoon sun had disappeared, to be replaced by a thick fog. I tried to orient myself, to concentrate, but felt light-headed, or at least light, as if floating. I shook my head to clear it. Imust find the road, avoid a crash. I must have dozed off at the wheel, but at least now I was wide awake. All I needed was to focus, to get back on track. The movements in my peripheral vision started to annoy me. What were they? I couldn’t hear cars or voices but knew that I was no longer alone. Someone said my name, in my head. It was as if the sound came from the inside out rather than outside of me. As I reflected on this unusual sensation one of the shapes drew closer and sort of thickened. I felt as if I knew whoever it was, but couldn’t quite locate them. A slight sense of panic started to rise up – if I couldn’t drive the car in this fog, I that would be it, finished. This was hardly the time or place to socialise, I thought irritably. I wasn’t getting anywhere. ‘Look, what’s going on’? I demanded of the rather transparent figure, who was too close, encroaching on my personal space. ‘Where am I and what on earth is happening’? The answering voice came into my head again, simultaneously from this familiar stranger and from my mind; ‘It’s time to go. We are going home’. I was about to protest. I was confused, panicking, but as the same time vaguely curious and rather sleepy. The temptation to just let go and float away with this strange stranger grew stronger. I held on. To give in and allow oneself to fall asleep in a desert or on an ice-field can be fatal. This person was evidently trying to trick me. Whoever she (somehow it felt like a she) was, she would have to be resisted. To keep myself awake I tried to picture my study at home. I had an article to finish. Lunch-time drinks are all very well, but I now needed a clear head, not just to get home. Deadlines won’t wait. No copy, no money.
As my mind clawed its way back from the dangerous lure of abandonment I suddenly found myself in my study. ‘Thank God for that!’ was my first reaction. ‘How on earth did I get here?’ was my second. I must work it out. Something was very wrong. It all looked normal enough, and at least I was home. I must have suffered a temporary memory loss, maybe the shock of the accident, or near miss, had affected my mind. I floated down to my desk and sat down in, or rather hovered a little over, my chair, and stretched forward to turn on the computer. As I reached towards the power
button it flicked into life. Weird, but rather impressive, I thought. I reached forward again to turn it off, but before I made contact with the power switch the screen just went dead. It hadn’t shut down properly – more wretched temporary files to clog up the memory. But I didn’t want to work now anyway. I was tired, so very, very tired. I must sleep. I need a long, long, deep sleep.
When I awoke I had the sensation of lying in a hospital bed. An extremely peaceful, comfortable one to be sure, and I was aware of people dressed in white uniforms moving around calmly, ministering to patients. Although I felt refreshed my mind refused to reveal the sequence of events that brought me to this place. I remembered with a jolt waking up at
the wheel of my car to see the front of the lorry only yards away – to avoid an impact, to avoid being crushed, was impossible. Yet somehow I had survived. I was in hospital. I felt whole, no broken bones, no aches and pains. My memory had evidently been affected, but no doubt this would also recover in time. ‘Nurse’ I called. I suddenly felt hungry, and wanted
not just food and drink but attention, human company, the reassurance of the familiar. Enough of this nonsense! A thought that had been playing at the back of my mind for some time now began to grow and take hold. I had died after all. There was a crash and I did not survive it. But, I reasoned, I wasn’t dead. Far from it, I had never felt better. I know that there is no God, no Heaven, no such thing as the survival of consciousness after death. My existence itself proves as much. After all I can see my body, the bed and bedclothes, the nurses and other patients. No, all will become clear in time. I must just wait a little longer

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