28 Jan Atonement
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Estimated reading time — 6 minutes
Walter Thomas lied in his deathbed tired and sleep deprived, nestled underneath the covers. He had reached the ripe old age of ninety-five and knew that his time was almost up. He had not reached this age by living a healthy and wholesome lifestyle, but rather by stubbornness and an unrelenting will to live. He had done many things over the span of his lifetime that he had come to regret. He had hurt everyone around him who loved and cared about him in one way or another, and now he felt it was too late to atone for his sins. A feeling of dread dwelled deep within him of what might await him in the afterlife.
He now waited helplessly for his impending fate, afraid to fall asleep in fear that he may never wake up. To pass the time, he stared at the clock on the wall of the other side of the room. It didn’t help to ease his anguish and despair though. Every time the clock ticked, Walter could feel his life slipping away from his fingertips, as he knew he was just one second closer to entering the realm of the unknown. The tension and suspense created by waiting for the inevitable was literally killing Walter on the inside. He couldn’t handle the pressure any longer. Part of him wanted to just die and get it over with, but another part knew that what awaited him afterward may be much worse than anything he may be suffering from at the moment. He decided to continue to cling onto life.
Suddenly, a man in a black cassock entered Walter’s room carrying a bible. He was a rather young and handsome looking man with compassionate eyes and neatly groomed black hair. He took a seat by Walter’s bedside. Walter hissed in anger and distaste at the man and withdrew into the covers.
“I know who you really are! You can’t fool me! Leave me alone and be gone from this place!” shouted Walter.
The man sighed. “Walter, you’re being irrational. There’s no need to be afraid of me.”
“I know why you’re here! You’ve come to take me away!” said Walter.
“Everyone must face me at some point or another in their lifetime. It’s inevitable,” replied the man.
Walter removed the covers from his head. “You’re wasting you’re time! I have no interest in what you have to say to me! Go bother someone else!”
Once again, the man sighed. “Walter, we’ve been playing this game for several years now. Frankly, I’m getting quite tired of it. You’re going to die one way or another. Why must you prolong the inevitable?”
Walter huffed in reply, “You know damn well the reason why! Whatever fate awaits me is far worse than anything I could possibly imagine now!”
“You don’t know that. Countless numbers of people have gone through this before you. No one’s fate is sealed. There are an endless number of possibilities that can happen.”
“Well I’m not interested in finding any of them out!” replied Walter.
“Perhaps some scripture will change your mind. Here’s a verse from Luke 17:33.” He thumbed through the pages of his bible. “Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.”
“Oh cut it out! That doesn’t even make sense!” shouted Walter. “If I lose my life I’m going to suffer for eternity, I just know it!”
The man took a moment to think. “If you won’t listen to me, perhaps there is someone who you will listen to.”
“Good luck with that,” replied Walter.
The man got up and walked out of Walter’s bedroom. Shortly after, a small and frail old lady entered the room. Her soft gray hair was tied back into a bun and her wheat colored skin was wrinkled and weathered from years of hardship. Walter looked up at her with shock and surprise.
“Eleanor, is that really you?” said Walter.
The Woman gave a warm smile and looked down at him with her kind eyes.
“Of course it is Walter.”
“But that’s not possible. You’ve been dead for ten years,” replied Walter.
“Death will never be able to keep me apart from you Walter.”
“Eleanor, why do you treat me so well? I never deserved a Woman like you.”
“Oh Walter, it breaks my heart to see you in this state,” replied Eleanor.
“You’ve always had much compassion for me. I wish I wouldn’t have been such a fool and taken that for granted,” said Walter.
“You’re being too hard on yourself. What happened in the past is over with. You need to move on with your life.”
“But how can I ever make up for all of the things that I have done to you. The constant abuse, neglect, and malicious remarks?” asked Walter.
She softly caressed his cheek. “You don’t need to make it up Walter. I have already forgiven you. I just want you to move on and be happy.”
“But I’m afraid,” said Walter. “I don’t know what awaits me on the other side.”
“Then let’s find out together,” replied Eleanor. She extended her hand towards Walter. Slowly, Walter reached his hand out and gently grasped hers. He stepped out of bed and proceeded to hobble out of the room with his wife, hand in hand. A brilliant light radiated outside of the doorway. Walter took a moment to pause. He looked behind him and saw his mortal body resting peacefully in bed.
“I guess there’s no going back now,” said Walter. They stepped into the bright light together and became enveloped by its embrace.
As Walter entered into the light with his Wife, he felt all of his stress and tension release. An overwhelming wave of warmth and euphoria spread throughout Walter’s entire body. In that moment, Walter was happier than he had ever been in his entire life.
The warm feeling inside him began to grow warmer. As Walter progressed, it continued to grow even warmer. The temperature started to get a little bit uncomfortable. Walter’s feeling of euphoria went away and turned into confusion. The heat increased even more. Walter grew uneasy. He tried to turn around to head back, but it was no use. There was nothing to go back to. He suddenly noticed that his wife was no longer beside him.
“Eleanor! Where did you go?” Walter cried out.
He looked around through the sea of blinding light, but saw no sign of her. Suddenly, a familiar voice spoke to Walter.
“She’s not here Walter.”
Walter looked around to find the source of the voice. To his dismay, he saw that there was a young man in a black cassock staring at him. However, his face seemed to be changing images back and forth like a lenticular picture from a handsome, clean-shaven man to a black featureless pool of darkness. Walter clenched his fists and glared intensely at the figure before him.
“Where is she?” Walter shouted.
“She is in a happy place, I assure you,” it replied. “However, I am unfortunately not able to say the same about you.”
“You tricked me!” Walter cried out. “I knew I should’ve stayed in bed! I knew it! I knew it!” As his anger heightened, the temperature increased even more. The air grew thick to the point where it seemed to have substance.
“I’m sorry I had to resort to such tactics, but this was getting ridiculous. I have other clients who I need to attend to,” the figure said.
“I don’t want to hear another word of your lies!” shouted Walter. The heat grew more intense. Walter felt a mild burning sensation throughout his entire body. His anger quickly turned into fear.
“Get me out of here and return me to my home at once!” Walter demanded.
“I’m afraid I cannot carry out your request. It is already too late for you,” the figure replied.
“Please let me go home!” Walter cried. The air grew thicker and toxic. Every breath Walter took, he felt a searing pain course throughout his lungs. He tried to cry out to the figure for help, but he choked and coughed on his own words. He stumbled and fell to the floor. He tried to get back up but was unable to. The sea of light that surrounded Walter slowly turned into a sea of fire and engulfed him completely. The heat became too intense to bear. An unimaginable sensation of pain seared throughout every square inch of Walter’s body as he writhed around uncontrollably. The figure stared at him sympathetically.
“I really am sorry that this had to be your fate. I honestly didn’t know this was going to happen to you. Unfortunately, your fate is out of my control. I’m just responsible for the affairs that take place when transitioning to the next life. If you’ll excuse me now, there are many others who are awaiting my arrival.”
In an instant, the figure was gone and Walter was left alone to suffer and perish for eternity.
Credit: David Walker