Friday, December 17, 2021


Short Story


(Originally published in Triune, NEVER STOP NEVER QUIT, 2020)

Essence last spoke to me when I was just six years old. I never shared my experience, choosing instead to hide my experience. I was an outcast feared by other children because of my disconnect from their innocence. The older generation dismissed my quirks. Their selfish extravagance failed to inspire curiosity or scorn, nor did their idle threats of what would become of my life cause me any discontent. Overnight, my vocabulary surpassed their feeble attempts.

Every image, every sound created by Essence was firmly rooted in my mind when I awoke. We retain certain childhood memories for different reasons. One may be that after looking at old photographs and videos again and again, we believe they represent reality. Another is that if there was chaos—we tend to remember chaos. Essence was neither of these. There were no memories, no reminders of the words; the images I recalled had never been created. Nor was there trauma, in any form. The truth I knew as Essence existed only in my head, as it had for eons, both past and yet to come.

I carried the words with me—neither fading nor transforming into a new impression—until I became a man. Always at an arm’s length from the world, there wasn’t a person with whom I could share Essence. No, there was no one for whom I could form the words, and had the language passed my lips, there wasn’t a person who could have grasped its meaning.

Until Rachel…

I met Rachel in my senior year of university. Rather, Rachel met me. With nary a consideration of my existence before that day, she found the man she had been searching for her entire life.

“You’re him!” she exclaimed, causing a reflex as I was attempting to eat my tuna fish sandwich. “You’re that kid who found something…or someone.” Apparently, my reputation from grade school preceded me. In the next five minutes, our fates were realized. By the end of our years together, she knew my vision as well as she knew her own reality. Though I could provide no more insight into my past, we grew closer night after night and day after day.

Twenty-three years, four months, and nine hours later, I buried Rachel. In my youth, I was an aberration. Together, our likeness assured we were made for each other, forever. An aberration once again made me that oddity, a tragedy. I disregarded Rachel’s request, for the first time ever, and held a service for her. Nine people joined me as I scattered her ashes into the ocean. Then they enabled me as I plied myself with alcohol. Someone brought me home and tucked me into my bed.

I think I threw up on them.


When I awoke last Wednesday morning, I knew exactly what day it was: six hundred and thirty-four. I turned over so I could watch Rachel sleep and be there when the first signs of her new day took hold. It has always been my routine. My body always knows what time she will wake, alerting me three minutes before. Her pose is the most beautiful sight imaginable. Long strands of brown and sandy-blonde hair drown her face, half-buried in her down pillow. The top sheet is pulled partway down her naked body, resting in the arch of her waist, for it was much too warm during the night to remain modest. I’ve seen the same image so many times before. I always try to turn over and savor as much of that vision as possible. Wednesday morning was no different.

But I never got the chance to enjoy my moment.

When I turned over, her right arm was bent, propping up her head. She looked at me and smiled. “Good morning, you,” she breathed. “I love to watch you wake up in the morning.”

As do I.

Before reality takes over, the morning is ours. We frolic, play, plan our meals together, giggle, hold each other for comfort, and scorch our souls with a fiery passion—this is our time.

Rachel leaned in and grazed my lips with her teeth before coating my mouth with her own. Our tongues shocked as if they were touching for the first time. “I love you…”

“You’re not real anymore, are you?” My question was not a sad one.

“Not in terms of anything you can grasp just now,” Rachel confessed in my thoughts.

“Hold me.” I felt her arms wrap underneath my shoulders, squeezing tight as our flesh became one. I emitted neither a whimper nor a heave as a single tear tracked its familiar path down my cheek. “I miss you so much, my love.” My wife said nothing as she gently swayed, squeezing her body tighter and tighter into mine until I could finally breathe again…after six hundred and thirty-four days.

“It’s okay, love. I’m here. I was always here.”

I gathered the strength to pull back and stare into her face. I saw the face of the twenty-year-old girl I first found love with. I stared into the eyes of the twenty-year-old child who lit up when she exclaimed, “I do!” I saw the lips that pretended to enjoy my first attempt at tomato soup, the lower lip that curls in when we’re close and her mind starts to stray, the lips that trembled when she got her diagnosis. I saw every image of Rachel in one portrait. Her long, sandy-blonde hair was jet black as much as it was burgundy, a bob cut braided in the back. When I looked, I saw the trails of gray she so proudly owned. They were all the same woman.

“Would you like to understand why?” There was no need to explain my curiosity. Rachel knew my thoughts because she was my emotion.

“Not just yet,” I pleaded.

I held my wife tight as we both closed our eyes and drifted once again into my dreams.


When I awoke last Wednesday morning, I knew exactly what day it was: six hundred and thirty-four. I turned over so I could watch Rachel sleep and be there when the first signs of her new day took hold. It has always been my routine. My body always knows what time she will wake, alerting me three minutes before. Her pose is the most beautiful sight imaginable. Long strands of brown and sandy-blonde hair drown her face, half-buried in her down pillow. The top sheet is pulled partway down her naked body, resting in the arch of her waist, for it was much too warm during the night to remain modest. I’ve seen the same image so many times before. I always try to turn over and savor as much of that vision as possible. Wednesday morning was no different.

Three minutes later, one eye batted open and a smile perched on her lips. Longing to see the buried half, I lightly brushed her hair away from her face. Rachel knew my thoughts; she raised her head and rested it on her bent arm.

“Thank you for that. I love to watch you wake up in the morning.”

“As do I.”

She wasn’t real, not in terms of what I could currently grasp. I asked Rachel how this was possible.

“I found your vision, my dear; I found Essence.” In that instant, as I stared into her face and bore witness to her thoughts, I finally understood what it was she had felt so many years ago. It was faith. When I first told her of the encounter I had with Essence in my youth, there was no need for me to defend something I could not prove. Her faith in me and the belief I discovered through Essence was bound only by the love we shared. I have never understood why she didn’t feel a need to question my convictions, until that day I accepted her claim.

I hungered for more. “Why am I seeing you now?” Even as I asked, I knew the answer. Rachel softly nodded her head. It was time for me to discover more.

“We want you to understand reality,” she explained. She released my hands and the room grew dark. Morning sun disappeared into the nautical twilight that ends the evening. The vibrant hues of my bedroom walls weakened as lucent trails continued to disappear. Night became dark; dark became black; black turned into a void. Soon, there was nothing. I waved my hands in front of me, but still saw nothing. Pinching my flesh, I wondered if this was the sensation that remains when you lose your sight…vision transforms itself from brilliance into emptiness.

I could still hear her voice.

“This is your instance of reality.” I wisely remained silent as one point of light emerged, minuscule and insignificant, yet unmistakable. “Humankind tries to define reality with words that have to do with dimensions. They carry feeble names that barely reveal a glimpse of their power.

“Within this instance of reality exists length.” The light stretched in both directions, far beyond the confines of my bedroom walls.

“Height.” A single pane rose up.

“Depth.” As the window expanded equally in both directions, dark became white as everything turned to light.

“We are inside your instance of reality,” Rachel explained. “Everything you see, everything you know, is contained within this boundary.” My confidence grew as she explained; her soothing voice urged me to contribute.

“And within every point of this instance,” I added, “is every property of vision, right?” As I named features, each appeared before my eyes. Color. Shade. Hue. I tried to pull to the front of my mind every definition, every synonym I could recall. As I did, the painting I was in began to resemble my bedroom.

Rachel showed me kindness, for my artistic expression was weak, by coyly interrupting me: “…and I’m sure you would get to every variety, dear!” As she giggled, the world snapped into focus once again. “And, when we add the dimension of time”—I looked over and watched her chest slowly rise and fall—“we have life!” Rachel crawled across the bed and kissed me. Time allows changes…and those changes created the sound, smell, touch, and taste I lost six hundred and thirty-four days ago.

“You’re adorable. Time does allow changes,” she confirmed my thoughts, “but time also does so much more.” The space defined as my instance of reality once again reduced to a single point, surrounded by nothing. “Every moment is unique. When the fabric of time passes on, an infinite number of possibilities occur.” Rachel’s simplification caused the single point of illumination to reproduce in numbers far beyond my comprehension. She explained that this is how life began: as a single instance created by Essence. What followed—infinite variants of the first point, each of which matures far beyond its predecessor, each uniquely distinct from its clones—was a miracle of extrapolation. As she described the infinite variables of infinite variables, my world overflowed with brilliance. The single point immediately expanded to fill everything, expanding into a brightness more intense than anything I could have ever imagined. As it continued blinding, the beauty became clear.

“I see it, Rachel!” With glee, I reached out through the colors. I could feel the life in each instance. “It’s the most beautiful tree I’ve ever seen, all starting from that one moment and expanding in every direction…constantly expanding in every direction.”

“Yes. That’s right.”

“I can see the first instance, right here,” I said, pointing to nothing at all. “Everything is laid out on top of, below, and alongside everything else. It’s like…”

We both echoed my thought: “one concurrent instance.” Suddenly it all made so much sense. I was staring at the universe as it was, and as it is.

“Can Essence see life as it will be?”

“Yes, and so much more,” Rachel confirmed. “That vision is shared with me, but you cannot see it.” For the first time since she arrived, I was frightened. I questioned why Essence would share so much with me, yet keep the greatest part, my destiny, from me. “You have no destiny,” she explained. “All that the future of your instance holds is the infinite iterations of possibilities. Your future is up to you, and the existence around you, for as similar as every infinite possibility may appear, those possibilities are not your string of reality. Other than the reality you know, none of the others belong to you. Essence knows all the possibilities but does not know which will be your unique path. That choice is yours alone.”

I watched the infinite strings of reality continue to multiply and build. It was a glorious sight to see. I asked Rachel if she could show me my string of reality as it is, from the beginning of creation until that moment, gazing with wonderment as the point of creation turned a slightly different color and meandered through time…through a time that existed solely for me. “Every person, every life, has a string that exists only for them. We are in this reality together, just as replicas of us will be together in others.” I watched my reality continue to grow as new instances became history.

All at once, one moment of the universe I was gazing into became dark. An entire string of reality, emanating from the creation of time, had blackened and disappeared. Nothing filled its void. I suddenly realized there was an infinite number of empty strings.

“What just happened?” I asked.

“That reality no longer exists,” Rachel explained. I could feel her tears running down my cheek. “In time, every reality will cease to exist. Every reality, that is, but one.” I already knew the answer.



I needed Rachel to explain why my reality was chosen.

“There is only one singularity of reality. Before the universe was created, there was nothing…only Essence. Out of nothing came one instance, then an infinite number of possibilities, and each following moment instantly created another infinite number of realities of consciousness.

“Essence created out of love. All Essence will do is create—after that, there is no need to control. For this reason, existence started with only one moment. What followed was the infinite number of possibilities of the next moment and each one that follows. Essence understands every instance in the flow of every stream, for it is from the will of Essence that every reality is created.

“Infinity does not exist. Infinity is simply a human concept used to describe a number which is beyond human understanding. An infinite stream of reality, created from infinite instances, each of which creates its own, does indeed have a limit. There are a finite series of realities, each forming a string from the very first moment until the last instance of the last moment. Every other string of reality will cease to exist at some point, for there can be only one true matter of existence. When every string has faded, and all that remains is once again the singularity of reality, the next moment will create an infinite number of instances, all of which will also cease to exist at some point.”

“How long will this go on?”

“For infinity.” Rachel brushed my cheek softly, soothing my fears as she continued. “When you and I came together, we collectively shared this singularity. The string of reality was inherited fully when I passed. When you die and join me in the afterlife, the singularity you share with another will be theirs. This is how it has always happened, and how it will always be until Salvation.”

The thought of sharing anything so intimate with someone other than Rachel seemed downright absurd, but she assured me it did not have to be a connection like we had. “When I was born, I inherited your burden from the nurse who helped bring me into this world. I never saw her again after my parents and I left the hospital, nor did I know anything about my future with you.”

“Then why am I privileged this way?”

“When I died, Essence shared our singularity with me. I saw every point on our string from the beginning of time, just as you have seen. When two lives coexist in perfect alignment, singularity is shared. When I was called to the afterlife, your string of reality became the singularity. You alone control your future. There is no way for you, me, or even Essence, to know which instance of which moment will keep you on the singularity of reality until it is your time to share singularity with another, and then hand it over completely.”

As my curiosity grew, my confrontation grew impudent and I pushed back on Rachel’s imagery and challenged the very tenets I already believed to be true. She smiled and welcomed my examination. We discussed every concept for hours and hours. I asked how Essence could know there are so many strings of reality. Her response was simple. She posed the question back to me by asking if I could see every defined instance, every succeeding moment, and all of time preceding those moments. I could imagine it all, for every reality was infinitely unique. I saw the moments when realities ceased to exist: victims of nature, humankind’s wrath, or just the faded desire of the universe to continue persisting. I saw time wrap back upon itself—and that is, or will be, a possibility. Looking back on a string, there is every possible moment, each branching out to the next batch of infinite possibilities. When life first returned to a previous time, it merely added another iteration to the defined set of infinite possibilities.

I could not see some of the realities I was beginning to imagine. Rachel assured me, “Humans are indeed unique, for they can imagine visions that will never be a possibility.”

I looked out into my string of reality and traced our past. As my singularity progressed in real time, I could see the infinite possibilities of what was to come. I marveled at the fantastic images created, the amazing achievements realized. My heart warmed as I witnessed the magnificent realities we could create, just as I wept over the horrors other versions of my existence realized. I went back to see alternate realities of my life, such as the one in which Rachel was never told she could never have children. I watched offspring grow and thrive in a world made better by the lives we created—but they all eventually disappeared, for they were not the one singularity of existence.

As anger fumed, I lashed out at Rachel. “How can God do this? How can he destroy what is beautiful, keep me from a reality that does indeed exist somewhere, and leave me here in a world filled with pain and suffering?” Even as I screamed, I felt remorse for invoking the human definition of that which was created by Essence. Rachel held my hand as I raged. She held my trembling body as I watched our children live, love, flourish, suffer, and die an infinite number of times. She kissed my cheek as I wept for the shame I felt.

“In time, my love,” Rachel promised, “you will feel what you already know to be true. Suffering and hardship are simply part of the anticipation of what may come next. Good, bad, tragic…there is no difference in what was created by Essence; there is merely existence.”

“What will happen when I die? You said we will be together. Do you know what will happen to me?”

“I know every iteration of every infinite possibility of your life after this moment. Many are wonderful. You will enjoy life again. You will find love once more.” I smiled at the thought, though I could not imagine how I’d ever find what I had lost. But Rachel’s words didn’t soothe me. There was something missing. She spoke only of the many iterations, not all of them.

Rachel nodded her head in agreement as I entered my own curiosity. “My action alone is the catalyst that drives the next moment, isn’t it?”

“It is,” she confirmed. “The singularity of reality is the driving force behind the infinite directions of subsequent moments. Every other reality from every infinite possibility remains driven by uniqueness, just as yours is, but those strings are damned.

“Every person on this journey with you is there by their own free will. You do not direct or control them.” They are not under my control, but their lives are tied to my reality.

“What, then, is the purpose of their lives?” I found the logic of Rachel’s explanation to be circular, though I was not sure if that was because of her explanation or my understanding. “Why does all of this exist?”

“You know the answer, my love,” Rachel assured me. “Feel the answer here”—she pressed her hand against the side of my temple—“not in your heart.”

Feel the answer in my head, not in my heart. I sank down in my bed, pulling the sheet around me and hiding in the security I hoped would be there. My mind contained the words I had heard, the message of Essence, and the reality of my experiences. My heart contained emotion, the bliss I felt when I saw her face again, and the lament I felt every time I faced losing her once more. My mind owned the answer.

Essence created out of love. Everything given to us was love, for that was the only existence. Death, suffering, pain…these are merely aspects of existence, of reality. Nothing after creation was formed by the will of Essence, but rather by the possibilities of what was provided. Humans created personal burden and agony because of their anticipation of what might come next; they alone created heaven and hell. Essence shows existence based on what its creations have created. For those who fail to live with love, hell awaits; an eternity of not knowing what becomes of your stream of reality. The afterlife is anticipation. The afterlife is suffering. Heaven is only for those who live life with the love Essence created. Heaven is eternal knowledge and understanding of all that happened before your life, before your death, and the life of your child, and their children, and their children…for eternity.

I saw satisfaction in Rachel’s eyes. I saw her loving appreciation and approval of my thoughts. “Humans alone determine their relationship with Essence, an eternity of either heaven or hell. You, my dear, will continue this path toward Salvation.” It was a concept I still could not grasp. Rachel took my hand and guided me through the infinite realities. “Every reality but yours will eventually cease to exist, including every infinite possibility they engender. Our singularity of reality is a course only you can define. It is one of the infinite possibilities, but it is indeed only one singular possibility. Should you fail to live within that singularity, it will no longer be a possibility.”

“Does Essence know what my singularity of reality is?” I asked.

“Essence knows every string of reality.”

“Does Essence know what reality I will traverse? Will I remain on our singularity?”

“Only you control your one reality from every moment of infinite possibilities.”

“And what happens if I stray from my singularity of reality?”

Rachel sighed. “Then, it is no longer a possibility. Like every other reality, yours will cease to exist. Without the continuation of that singularity, the love Essence created will cease to exist for all eternity. Damnation.”

Suddenly, everything became so clear. I looked at Rachel and saw only one person; I realized she was no longer maturing with me throughout my reality. She was in heaven. She was Essence. I asked her, “When eternity comes to an end, and every other reality but the singularity vanishes, what will we have?”

“Salvation!” her voice boomed. “We will exist in singularity with the love Essence created.”

“And what happens the moment after that?”

“An infinite number of realities will occur, my love.”

“Then, whose salvation is this?”

As I asked my question, my vision of Rachel faded; the blinding brilliance of an infinite possibility of realities faded until I opened my eyes last Wednesday morning and I knew exactly what day it was.

Day six hundred and thirty-four. 

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