Monday, April 1, 2013 (original post date)
It really is a magnificent place, this library. The shelves extend far above my head, as far as the eye can see. It is a labyrinth of a place, though; the mahogany cases endlessly zigzag for miles. How does one not get lost here? It is easy to lose track of time, with leather bound books sporting titles by every known literary author, from Douglas Adams to Emile Zola.
Time. . . I suddenly forget what it feels like to have time pass me by. I momentarily wonder if time even exists anymore. I take the next left and notice the floorboards beneath my feet were oak. I’m not entirely sure how I know this.
For that matter, I’m not entirely sure where I am or how I got there. I rub my temples; perhaps I am dreaming? The last thing I remember was falling asleep in the middle of George Orwell’s 1984. How did I end up here?
“You’re not crazy,” came a whisper. What a familiar voice. It’s soothing and friendly. I follow the source and see Ray smiling at me from my right. He’s only a few feet away… How long has he been there? Nevertheless, the sight of my wonderful brother brings a smile to my face, as only he can. He approaches me and as soon as he’s near enough, he pulls me into one of his bear hugs. There’s something different about him; he doesn’t quite smell like the cologne that he’s worn for years, the cologne I’ve come to associate with him. But now, it feels more like those moments when I have to do double-takes when I pass my bookshelf because I know there is something missing.
“Donna,” he says in his deep baritone voice. How long has it been since I last heard his voice? It sounds different to my ears somehow.
“I like your library.”
“My library?” I pull back from his hug. “I didn’t know I had my own library.”
My brother’s smile slips of his face. He looks thoughtful now, as if he is mulling something over. “Sit down,” he says, gesturing at two large red armchairs that seem to have materialized from thin air. Between them, there is a small round table, and on it, two silver teacups and a matching kettle. A trail of steam slowly floated up through the spout. Ray took a seat and poured me a cup, which he handed to me as I planted myself in the empty armchair.
“What’s going on?” I ask, ignoring the tea, suddenly and painfully aware that something was terribly wrong.
Ray leaned on his knees and clasped his hands together, as if in prayer. He looked straight ahead, and I watched as he clenched and unclenched his hands. “It won’t be easy to hear,” he said, ominously. “But you deserve to know.”
I could only frown in response as I waited to hear what he had to say. Ray was usually so blunt with me; he was never one to sugar coat or beat around the bush. Whatever he had to tell me must be serious.
Ray gave his hands one final clench before meeting my eyes. “Donna,” he said, softly. “I’m afraid you are no longer among the living.” He paused. When he realized his messaged wasn’t sinking in, he tried again. “You’re dead . . .” It came out slowly, carefully enunciated, the way a best friend might jokingly tell you you’re an idiot. But Ray wasn’t joking, and he wasn’t insulting my intelligence.
Still, his words left me dumb struck. Dead? How is that possible? I was sitting in a library drinking tea with my brother. If I was dead, then how did I get here? Why was I able to feel my brother’s arms when he hugged me? How was I able to feel the hot porcelain cup in my hands and smell the tea that was wafting from it?
“I know what you’re thinking,” Ray said next. “If I am dead, then how did I get here and why are all my senses intact?”
I blinked. Whatever he saw on my face must have been enough confirmation because he proceeded to nod.
“It’s common. I like to fix that with a question; do you remember how you got here?”
I opened my mouth to answer… and I quickly realized I didn’t have an answer. I took in my surroundings a second time. I eyed every shelf, every stripe of wood on the floor, the patterns of red velvet on the armchairs, every corner of the library, and I found myself wondering where I was. Which library was this? It didn’t look like any of the ones I had ever visited. I felt my fingers touch my lips.
“Where am I? How did I die?” I was on the verge of tears. I turned my attention back to Ray and the sight of him brought an awful, sinking feeling of terror in the pit of my stomach. “So, if I’m dead, then, Ray, does that mean you’re too?”
Ray tore his turquoise eyes from my emerald ones and let his head hang, his elbows still propped on his knees, his hands still clasped together. He let a sigh escape his chapped lips; he never did like putting on lip balm, always thought it was too feminine. Geez, why was I thinking about this now?
“This is always the hardest part,” I heard my brother mutter. He straightened up in his seat before addressing me again. “Donna, I’m sorry, but I’m not who you think I am…. I’m not your brother, Ray.”
I set my untouched tea back on the mahogany table. “What do you mean? Of course you are my brother. Who else could you be?”
Ray picked himself up from the armchair and offered me his hand. “Take a walk with me.”
Without really considering it, I accepted his hand and let my not-brother lead me away. As we walked between the high-stacked shelves, I tried to find an exit. This library seemed to go on forever.
“Donna,” fake Ray began. “On Earth, where all humans reside and live, you have various belief systems, depending on what part of the world you originate from. Most religions have two fundamental concepts in common; the concept of an immortal deity that is often depicted as the creator of things, and the concept of life after death. No one belief system is entirely accurate, of course; these things are just the speculation of mortals who have never truly come in contact with any such immortal deities.”
“I don’t like where this is going,” I interrupted. My brow furrowed throughout his entire lecture.
Ray stopped walking and turned to face me. “No one ever does,” he said somberly. “In any event, I am what the humans from where you come from call ‘God.’ As I mentioned before, humans have it very wrong. I didn’t create the Earth or all the things in it. And I’m certainly not named Yehova. What a hideous name!” I couldn’t help but chuckle at that.
“So,” I replied hesitantly. “If you are God, or a god, why do you look like my brother?”
Not-Ray smiled. “I thought you’d never ask. Before I get to that, let me clear something up. I’m not really ‘God’ or a god, though I am the closest thing to the ‘God’ that humans believe in. But, actually, I’m more like an angel of death. I think you have a name for that, as well: Grim Reaper, I believe?”
“You’re the Grim Reaper?” At this I laughed out loud. “My brother was Grim Reaper for Halloween one year. . . ”
“Well,” Not-Ray continued, doing his best, I could tell, to ignore the sadness in my voice. “The reason I look like your brother is because I take on the form of the person you love most in the world. It makes the whole ‘you’re dead’ message a little easier to deliver. I mean, could you imagine if a walking, talking skeleton in a creepy black rope, and wielding scythe approached you with that message? I don’t think very many people would take that very well.” I had to stifle my laughter that time. “See? Because I look like your brother, someone you obviously care deeply for, you can laugh even though you’re probably in the worst possible situation you could possibly be in.”
I nodded. That made a lot of sense. And even though I knew I was harboring sadness deep within me, I wasn’t panicking or scared. I was at peace. I smiled at fake Ray.
“So, what do you really look like?” I boldly inquired.
Not-Ray’s eyebrows shot up on his forehead in surprise. He let out a small chortle after the shock wore off. “You know,” he said. “Of all the deaths I had delivered, you are the first one to ask me that.” He grinned.
I stood there, not knowing how to react to that. “Well?” I chimed, wanting to break the awkward silence. “Are you going to answer my question?” He called himself an angel; did he have wings? Or did he really look like the Grim Reaper he described?
Not-Ray hesitated. I watched as he shuffled his feet while he thought of a response. “I guess the only way I can answer that is to tell you that I really don’t know. I have no idea what I look like, what my true form looks like, if, indeed, I even have one.”
We both fell silent. It couldn’t be an easy existence, I thought, flying around, guiding confused, dead people. He comforted and counseled thousands, but never received the same reaction.
I had many questions for him, for this Not-Ray. Where did he come from? Was he alive once or had he always led this existence? Did he respond to anyone or was he alone? I wondered how many of them he had ever able to answer, or if had asked any of them himself. So, instead of burdening him, I went with the simplest of questions possible, one he may be able to answer. “Do you have a name? I’m tired of calling you ‘Not Ray’ in my head.”
He spared me a small, quiet smile. “You can call me Gabriel.”