The ultimate question invariably came down to the dividing line between life and death, whether it could be moved one way or the other and by whom, what was on the other side, if anything, other than the all-annihilating darkness of nothingness. Xeno Fiedler spent hours contemplating the possibilities, increasingly more so as he aged towards the unpredictable line. Sometimes he wondered whether he couldn’t just move the line closer and forget about the questions, but he never did anything about it to make it happen.
A young woman was lying motionless in her bed in the palliative care unit of a hospital, her body ravaged by cancer, her mind shut down because of the pain. She would have liked to have more time to contemplate her impending end, but for her it was much too late already. She’d have to find out when the actual time came, leave the outcome to the Fates or to the unknown without ever being quite sure, or convinced, of what her end was really like, given the state of her mind.
A suicide bomber was barreling down Main Street in his heavily armored truck, honking and squealing his way through the traffic towards the crowded Saturday market at the main intersection. He knew all the answers already, didn’t need to consider any more questions, convinced of where he was going and what he was about to do. Xeno envied him his confidence in himself. There was, after all, a small chance that he might be right. The bomber pushed the gas pedal to the floor and plowed into the crowd, exploding into a shower of bits and pieces of flesh and bones as he crossed the inevitable line. He had taken his life into his own hands and determined the outcome of his own destiny by himself.
His victims were already lined up in neat rows in an improvised morgue covered with white sheets by the time they realized what had happened. The answers were floating above them in the putrid air, but they couldn’t grasp their significance with their mangled brains. They wished they could have known, could have seen the line, penetrated the darkness, but the bombs had taken care of all that and they had to wait and find out for themselves, making their deaths all the more complicated and unfathomable, the line already behind them as it happened for most.
Xeno heard about them on the news and wished he could go to their morgue and ask them all the questions he tried to have answered, wanted to ask the bomber about moving the line towards himself to determine his own fate and what the bits and pieces of his body meant to him. Yet he wondered if the others’ experiences would have anything to do with his own life, his own death. He concluded that they probably wouldn’t, turned back to his TV, and mulled over in his mind the different possibilities of life after death, if, indeed, there was such a thing.
Perhaps he just needed more time. Hopefully he would have enough time, unless he decided to move the dividing line closer to himself, like the suicide bomber did and the woman in the palliative care unit probably wished she could. He also knew that there were few alternatives, and none of them would be handed to him on a silver platter. All he could hope for was that he would recognize the line when he reached it, and that there would be something more beyond it than the deafening darkness of his own terminated existence.
Perhaps he should give the moving of the dividing line more consideration. Perhaps it deserved to be considered more seriously and in a great deal more detail than he had devoted to it so far. The answers would come much more quickly, he was convinced of that. It was just a matter of deciding on a relatively painless way of crossing the line before his time, before he or anyone else could prevent him from determining his own destiny and find his own answers. He knew that they were there; he just needed to devise a way of getting to them and grasping them with his curious mind. He could come back, then, and tell everyone what they were.
Peter Baltensperger is a Canadian writer of Swiss origin and the author of ten books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. His latest book is a collection of flash fiction, Inside from the Outside, A Journey in Sudden Fiction (available from Amazon). His work has appeared in print and on-line in several hundred publications around the world over the past several decades. He makes his home in London, Ontario, Canada with his wife Viki and their four cats and two puppies, all of them literally inclined.