Afterlife

It has been a busy couple of evenings so no posting for EBL. Time to catch up, because I have been reading some posts and thinking about what to post and generally going a bit postal (largely due to the extra hours required if I am ever going to get finished with The Project).

Thursday night I was at a School Governors meeting and discovered to my amazement I had served eight years. Honestly, you don’t get that for murder. There is wise advice about not serving too long, and stepping aside to make way for fresh insights. So I am starting to think about a New Life after the end of this school year.

On Friday we were at the village quiz, and Sigoth was telling me about some of the questions he had been writing. We write the quizzes each month, and this time I had to leave Sigoth to it because of workload. Sometimes one of us has to do that, it makes the quizzes a bit more interesting actually. Oh look, EBL, stepping aside again!

The thing Sigoth was telling me about was that because the 1st February is the anniversary of the space shuttle Columbia Disaster, there are a lot of astronauts coming up on the 1st February date page in Wikipedia.

columbia astronautsIt made me think. I didn’t think about the astronauts so much, although generally I am sorry for the loss in that slightly disconnected way in which we recognise tragedies at a distance. What Sigoth noticed was that they all had Wikipedia entries.

I pictured the heroes arriving in Valhalla on the wings of that terrible explosion, and the fuss and confusion and awe of their entrance, followed by a slightly embarrassed silence during which Thor hissed loudly “Who are they again?” and Odin said “I’ll just check them out on Wikipedia…”

I wondered, in the event that there turns out to be an afterlife after all, whether I would finally have time to read the sum of human knowledge as embodied in Wikipedia; and how long it would take, as when I finished I would have to start again in order to pick up the new articles; and if, in fact I would ever finish.

Will the souls clustered in heaven, of whatever flavour they choose, find their Wikipedia entries a comfort, or a source of one-up-man-wiki? Or will they shriek and moan at their editors, pointing shaking, misty fingers at prose riddled with factual inaccuracy and misconstrued meaning? Is Wikipedia in fact setting us up for the Great Demonic Infopocalypse, in which the souls of the dead, maddened by falsehoods, typos and misconceptions, storm and rage the length and breadth of cyberspace in order to re-establish the truth. We will see endless wars of information updates, malicious hacks and outright libel, discussion forums flamed and bleeding, servers brought down under the weight of change and counter-change.

Oh, wait, are we there already?

I was thinking of starting a New Life. Now I’m wondering if I need to plan my New Afterlife instead.

Namaste.

Why things fall down, not up.

I had another story turn up – like buses really. So for want of anything better to do I though I would post it here. Without further ado I present:

Why things fall down, not up.

In the olden days in Heaven everything had its place, according to the will of the gods. And the same was true in the human world. Trees grew from earth to sky because the earth cherished their roots and the sun loved their branches. Water flowed from the mountains to the seas, because the rock adored the youthful rising spring and the sea drank down the old rivers, which were full of stories and history, to fill its huge emptiness.

There was, however, a problem with rainbows. Everything in Heaven and on earth longed to hold a rainbow. Rainbows are brightest when the sun and the rain both fight to hold them. As a result, rainbows were being waved about in a most dangerous fashion and the sun and the rain were in constant argument, producing an uncomfortably humid atmosphere in the home of the gods. The last straw came when Uncle Odin was prodded in the face by the sharpened end of a rainbow and lost the use of an eye.

The Mother of the gods decided she needed to have a family conference. Heaven existed in a state of chaotic balance, as the gods all competed to be the brightest and the best, but the constant rows were upsetting the equilibrium. The family was duly summoned to the breakfast table, where all the important decisions in Heaven were made.

Mother fixed her brood with a frown.

“This situation is unacceptable,” she announced. “We need to decide who will manage rainbows from now on. This squabbling has to stop.”

“They are patently the work of the sun,” said Dawn brightly, “which is my responsibility.” She folded her arms and sat back.

“I think the clue is in the name, actually,” said Storm. “Without my raindrops nothing happens. I’ll take it from here, sis.” And he sat back with a self-satisfied rumble.

Mother sighed heavily. “OK, two bids so far. Anyone else?”

Everyone raised a limb, or otherwise indicated a keen interest. Humans liked rainbows a great deal, and whoever was in charge would earn a great deal in ambrosia bonuses.

Mother raised an eyebrow. ”Well, this won’t do. I don’t have time to sit here listening to all your feeble arguments.” She sat quietly for a moment, thinking.

Everyone looked worried. Mother was always worrying when she was quiet.

“I think we’ll let the humans choose,” she announced after a significant pause. “By themselves,” she added before anyone could recover sufficiently to protest.

“I myself will interview some key humans and see which of you is best placed to meet the requirements of the position. And also to make sure no one cheats. I’ll be in touch. Meeting adjourned.”

Mother vanished on her quest, leaving her children dumbfounded. Given the number of human beliefs regarding rainbows, it looked like she wouldn’t be back for a while, so everyone felt it was time to start on the croissants and gossip.

Several days passed before Mother made her return and summoned everyone back to the table. She had a thick sheaf of notes as an aide-memoire.

“In summary,” she said, “there are quite a few views among humans as to the purpose of rainbows, most of which are quite positive. I was pleased to note that none of them were correct – it’s always good to keep some mysteries to ourselves!”

Everyone smiled and nodded. Mysteries were certainly no use if the humans worked them out.

“Apparently the rainbow may be a message from us to humans, promising not to flood the earth,” Mother continued. “Although why we would want to do that I can’t imagine. Or it might be a means of goddesses in bright frocks carrying messages…some humans get so muddled. One lot even think it’s a bridge up to Heaven for dead warriors – but they also seem to think that we will lose the battle at the end of the world, so we’ll not dwell on that too much!”

The children all chuckled, and Uncle Odin looked a bit embarrassed.

“On the other side of the world,” Mother continued, “humans seem to think that the rainbow is a serpent which created the world.”

There were a number of guffaws from the younger element among the gods at this point. Mother frowned.

“Don’t get too carried away,” she said sternly. “I also came across a very odd little man called Isaac who has found a way to make his own rainbows by slicing up sunlight.”

Dawn looked distressed. “He’s doing what?” she cried. “I can’t have that – my poor sun will end up a shadow of his former self!”

“Don’t worry dear,” Mother replied. “He can only make little ones and I don’t think people generally want little rainbows – they like them full-sized.”

The notion of humans creating their own rainbows had sobered the gods somewhat. After all, making rainbows might lead to making other things, like snowflakes and kittens, and then where would the world be?

“But finally,” Mother explained to the hushed family, “I’ve learned that humans believe rainbows are something to cherish and that their beauty illustrates hope after darkness and storms. “

“There is one of you I can think of best placed to care for something so precious…” she concluded.

Everyone held their breath in anticipation.

“…Pandora, dear, I have a little something for you to keep safe. But just to give you a hand, I picked up a useful trick from Isaac.” And she passed a heavy bag to the astonished Pandora.

“He calls it gravity – stick some on each end of your rainbows, dear. Else you’ll have someone’s eye out with them. And Uncle Odin can’t afford to lose another one.”

And Pandora did just that, but being a little clumsy by nature, she let quite a lot of the gravity get out and it has been troubling the world ever since.

Stories

I came across this story what I wrote years ago when I was a student. It’s not great literature but it amused me at the time, and it might also amuse you. If not, so be it. Given it was written in 1982 I’ll let you work out the cultural influences…

I present to you –

“The day the sun didn’t shine”

There was uproar in Heaven. Every god was scrambling about in frantic haste, and all with a single purpose – to be the first to the Great Table. It was breakfast time, and there were fresh croissants, delicately steaming from the ovens powered by the souls of the damned at their labours in the Underworld. Finally, there was quiet as everyone settled expectantly around the Table.

“Where’s Dawn?” snapped the Mother Goddess, pointing to the empty seat of her brightest daughter.

“She had a heavy night,” someone said. “Midsummer’s Eve, and all that.”

“Do you mean to tell me she’s still in bed?”

There was an embarrassed silence.

“Although how,” Mother muttered to herself, “she could possibly sleep through all that noise is quite beyond me.”

Pausing only to glare at her host of children, many of whom were gazing wistfully at the rapidly cooling croissants piled in the centre of the table, she swept from the room. Dawn slept at the top of the palace so that she had easy access to the various mechanisms for keeping the sun in its course across sky. To save herself the effort of climbing the stairs, the Mother decided to levitate, and soon found herself floating purposefully along the corridor to Dawn’s room.

Entering briskly, a single glance was enough to confirm her worst fears, and sufficient to cause her to overlook the general aspect of a bombsite which the room presented to the divine eye – an aspect usually considered grounds for a week denied ambrosia, but provided with a turn or two supervising the souls in the Underworld. It was not a pleasant job as the wretched creatures would keep trying to get out of it, often with the feeblest of excuses. Mortals weren’t what they had been… in her day they took it like a man.

The Mother shook her wayward daughter. Then, as this produced no real effect, tipped a jug of nectar over the blissful dreamer. Dawn opened her eyes suddenly and let out a little shriek.

“Do you know what time it is?” Mother demanded.

Dawn thought a bit. “It’s still dark outside,” she said.

“Well of course it is, you silly muffin! The sun is still down, along with the Morning Star which Night brought in several hours ago. The mortals won’t like this, my girl, and to be honest, I’m not too impressed either.”

“Oh, stuff the mortals!” Dawn muttered rebelliously. “I’m sick of having to get up at the crack of Twilight to put that stupid sun in the sky. It’s been getting me down all week. Ever since it heard it was nearly Midsummer it’s been playing me up, straying about all over the sky and just refusing to settle down at night. I’m exhausted. I told it last night – it was the worst last night – that as a punishment I wasn’t going to take it out today, except for a quick run after lunch. After all, we can’t have the sun looking peaky.”

There was a very heavy silence following this outburst, during which Dawn plucked sullenly at her nectared nightdress and the Mother slowly turned purple, spluttered for a moment, then demanded that her daughter get up.

“We’ll talk about this later, my girl – after the sun is up in that sky!”

“No,” said Dawn, her voice muffled by her pillow. “I’m on strike.”

Mother sighed impatiently. “Well, give me the key and I’ll do it today.”

“It’s on the table.”

“”Where? Here?”

“Yes, by the moisturising cream. I’m beginning to peel with all these long days out with the sun, you know. It’s not good for me, Mother, I’ll end up looking like a lobster that’s just been boiled.”

“Never mind, dear.” Mother replied, hunting through the innumerable lotions, creams and oils on the table. “Night feels the same way every December with those long stints in the cold with the moon and all those stars.”

“At least he has Christmas around to cheer him up,” Dawn retorted. “Anyway, boys are different. He doesn’t have to take care of his complexion like I do.”

“No, but he gets awful chilblains,” Mother pointed out, trying to be reasonable. “Are you sure it’s here?”

“No,” said Dawn, infuriatingly. “Actually, come to think of it, it’s probably on the mantelpiece.”

Mother gave her the kind of look usually reserved by the injured party in a court case, who hears all their petty actions being aired in the open, much to the delight of the neighbours, who always thought as much but never liked to say. Unfortunately it was lost upon Dawn, who had wafted carelessly out of the room to start running a fragrant bath, taking several of the pots from the table with her.

Night appeared in the doorway.

“The moon’s getting restless,” he said darkly. “So’s her wretched sun. Where is she?”

His sister floated idly past him bearing various items of clothing and humming gently to herself.

“She keeps the key on a chain in the wardrobe,” he remarked, producing the item from its customary lodging as he did so. “Shall I let the sun up?”

Mother glared at her children impotently.

“Yes,” she snarled between clenched teeth.

“No good,” Night told her five minutes later. “The sun won’t budge. It’s sulking. Says she doesn’t love it any more, and it wants to die.”

Dawn wafted in again, “Good,” she said.

Mother put her head in her hands and began doing her breathing exercise. By now it was half past seven and still pitch black outside. A few priests were beginning to get upset and making burnt offerings rather indiscriminately. Heaven was filling with smoke and divine eyes were getting distinctly red-rimmed. Dawn’s eyes however were covered with slices of cucumber as she lay dreamily in her bath, inhaling perfumed steam. Outside, Mother hacked a little as she hammered on the door, and her vocal chords rasped quite noticeably as she ordered her daughter to let her in. Her daughter remained oblivious, with the latest ditty from the music of the spheres playing at full volume.

It was quite a long time before Dawn finally emerged from the bathroom, perfumed, oiled and creamed. Night had gone to bed, leaving Twilight in charge of the moon, which was becoming increasingly restive, and stirring up all the stars. The sun was moping faintly in a corner, and burning petals off daisies, chanting “She loves me, she loves me not,” then collapsing hopelessly at the end of each bloom to brood on happier days before starting all over again with another hapless flower. By now, the stars were beginning to get noisy and sounding rather like a stiff breeze among a thousand glassy chandeliers. The moon was backing them up with some of her special violins.

Dawn looked surprised, “What’s the matter with them?” she asked her wan Mother.

“They want to go out. It’s dark.” Twilight said. “They think they should be out there, galloping about and gladdening the hearts of mortals. They don’t believe it’s daytime. And the sun just sits in a corner saying things like ‘Temporal reality is a subjective experience conditioned emotively by the environment’ which isn’t much help because they think it means it agrees with them. And I’m not sure it doesn’t.”

Dawn reddened a little and examined her toes intently before asking “Do you mean it’s still not out?”

“Wouldn’t go without you,” Twilight explained. “Devotion,” he added gloomily.

Dawn flushed deeper and waggled her toe a bit. She chewed at her lip for a while, and fidgeted uncomfortably.

“I was thinking,” she muttered, continuing to examine her toes, “maybe the sun might want to apologise. Maybe it’s sorry. “

“Why don’t you go and see it?” the Mother suggested hopefully.

“Well, OK,” Dawn agreed. “I s’pose.”

The three deities strolled along to the sun’s room. It was surprisingly poorly lit, but the reason for this was clear immediately upon entering. The sun was reclining weakly on a couch, with a wintry expression of futility on his face. It saw Dawn almost at once, but merely groaned in a theatrical manner and sank further into its pillow of clouds. A couple of sunbeams drooped dispiritedly nearby.

Dawn, however, registered only the faint looking sun, and nothing else. She rushed to its side and began smoothing its forehead in a matronly sort of way and murmuring encouraging sorts of things to it. Very soon it brightened up, and by lunchtime it was high in the sky beaming like a cat with the cream.

“Well, Twilight dear,” the Mother said later. “I think that everything should be alright now, but I would be grateful if you’d keep an eye on things from now on.”

So that is why Twilight always follows Dawn and the sun, and why Dawn blushes so redly until the sun is properly in the sky. It is also why, especially at Midsummer, the sun is so bright and happy and stays out so late. Most interestingly, it is also why burnt offerings went out of fashion in Heaven soon after the day the sun didn’t shine.