The forest was drenched in a dull violet light as a blue sun pierced the canopy. Her eyes gazed thoughtlessly at the trees that loomed titanic over her. She would have stayed there, if not for a voice which suddenly broke the veil of silence.
“How long do you plan on lying there?”
She jumped on her feet, immediately turning to where the voice came from. A man sitting on a stone with a rotting left hand and eyes of fire regarded her with curious eyes.
“Who are you? Where am I?” and at the same moment terror came over her as she realized that she was standing stark naked. She would have run away, but the man’s words stopped her.
“You forget you are dead.”
“Dead?” she felt the word escape her. Memories rushed back like a flood. Grief, happiness, madness every emotion mingled into one overcame her before vanishing into an agonizing darkness of infinity, leaving her a crumpled mess sweating and panting. When she woke up again, her mind was surprisingly calm. She looked into the burning eyes of the man on stone who sighed when he saw her waking up.
“So many times, and yet I am not used to it. It never gets old.” He said.
“Are you God?”
“No. But I am your god.”
“Is this hell or heaven?”
“Neither. This is the ‘Barren.’ A wasteland where you have to make a choice.”
“You can go back and live. This life as you have lived it, you will live again, now and forever, every moment, every breath. Right from the moment you were born to when you committed suicide. There will be nothing new in it. All of this will happen again, even this moment.”
“What’s the other option?” she asked, trembling.
“You can vanish for eternity. You will be nothingness. The very concept of you will cease to exist. The cycle will stop.”
“What choices are these? Haven’t I suffered enough?” she whispered. Tears welled up in her eyes. To live through every single moment again, the thought was unbearable.
“What is it like? Nothingness?”
“It is difficult to explain to your human mind and even more difficult to comprehend it. It is just nothing. Can you imagine it? It is not a void of blackness where you will float. There isn’t even a black or white there. There won’t be a you.”
“Then what’s the point of all this? It’s meaningless either way. If the same thing is going to happen all over again.”
“Was it supposed to make a point, some sense? Why would it? You were barely a speck who changed anything.”
“I sacrificed myself to save lives. I saved lives. Didn’t I? What of them?”
“It doesn’t matter. You may call it whatever you want, but in the end, it was suicide. You were tired of life, beaten to the ground. You found a mindless solace in some pathetic god, and when the time came you saw your chance to end all of it. You decided this was the only way to make sense of the mess which was yours. You never wanted to save a single life, you just wanted to find some peace and meaning.”
“Did I save any life?” she asked again.
“No. Every single one of them died. All they do is pray. Tens of thousands of people shouldn’t depend on a single man or woman.”
She heaved a sigh as her spirit gave up. Her eyes wandered again drawn invariably toward the forest. It was a strange forest. Strange and pretty. She was ringed with eucalyptus, maple, palm. No two species were the same. “Where does this forest end?” The man snapped his fingers, and she was standing at the edge of the forest. As far as her eyes could see, beyond the forest was only a gray wasteland broken by only a few mountains on the horizon. Something burned within her as she saw the mountains, a desire to see what was beyond.
“Can we go beyond the horizon?” she asked, pointing.
“Maybe. I cannot travel further than the forest and you don’t have enough time.”
She considered the horizon for a few moments, and suddenly an answer came to her. “I know what I want to do,” she took a deep breath. “I will go back. However, before that, I have a request.”
“You want to plant a sapling. Here on the edge.” He said calmly.
“Yes……How did you know?” “You are the one who grew this forest, and I took care of them.”
It took a moment for her to register it. Her jaw dropped. She looked back at the forest. Its magnitude and scale now intimidated her.
“How many times have I died yet?”
“Too many times. I lost count a long time ago.”
“But, why did I do this? Why am I still living?”
“You tell me. You are probably more than 1000 years old now.”
A smile bloomed on the man’s lips, and she fell on her knees laughing uncontrollably, trying to stop the tears. “I feel all the emotions you feel even as you live. I don’t understand you people. How do you keep on living? When every breath is agony, when your chest contracts until it crushes the heart, when you want to cry but the tears won’t come. When you have felt death. How do some of you keep going?”
“Maybe in the hope that it will be better next time. Maybe so that we can change. Even if it’s just one step.”
“But I just told you that nothing will ever change! It will be a world without end, without change, forever.”
“And yet, why not give it a try?”
She went back as soon as she planted her tree. The man on the stone waited for her yet again, wanting to see what was beyond the horizon.