Formless, featureless white, as far as he could see. It toyed with the senses—constantly shifting, yet never changing. Cool as winter’s first chill, yet radiating a heat that made him shrink from the precipice—cling to the barrier that anchored his platform perched at the edge of Forever. And always that music calling from the void, a hum more harmonious than any chorus he had ever led. The sheer beauty of it made him tremble. Nothing so exquisite was without its price. And he knew what the price was. There was no mistaking the hissing of sparks, as chaff burning off molten metal. There was fire out in that cavernous wasteland—nothing more than a shimmer in his peripheral vision, vanishing when he tried to look at it head-on. But he knew it was there.
Nothing in life had prepared him for the dread of facing this invisible inferno. A fire that hot would incinerate him completely. And yet the siren song wound around him, compelling him to yield to the yawning void at his back.
But he would not give in. The window before him, crosshatched and reinforced, gave him a connection—however tenuous—with the world he knew. It was a respite from the torturous light of his prison. A chance to catch a glimpse of the one he had loved. Perhaps he loved her still, but Forever had a way of dulling all things, even the most powerful emotion known to humankind.
Yet even the dullest love was a force to be reckoned with. As long as he had that, he would keep fighting. Eventually, he would find a way back to her.
His senses quickened: There she stood, as fresh and beautiful as the day they had met. But surely his eyes were deceiving him. Her hair could not be white. Those could not be wrinkles on her face.
An unseen tongue of flame flicked casually in his direction. He shuddered and pressed himself to the diamond-hatched window. How long before the blazing nothingness consumed his fragile scaffold suspended between worlds? Before he tumbled into pearly oblivion and lost her forever?
He watched as she made her way across a wide emerald lawn, arm-in-arm with a young man whose strength seemed to be the only thing keeping her upright. Could she really be that old? She seemed superimposed upon herself: red lips, snapping eyes, the voluptuous curves that had first drawn him to her—yet withered, bent, pale-faced and pear-shaped, with a ridiculous silk flower adorning a ridiculous felt hat.
A ring of two dozen tuxedo-clad boys parted to let her approach the ugly slash in the grass. They were singing. What a sound! He was proud of them, and of himself, for providing them with the skill to meld their voices so perfectly into one. He smiled, watching as she swayed to the music. She had always loved to dance.
Wait a minute. It wasn’t them he was hearing—it was the voice of the fire, as it had been all along. Nothing penetrated that window. Not their voices, not hers—not even his, though he tried desperately to call out to her. And yet, as her legs buckled and she collapsed onto the lush jade carpet, she looked up, and for a brief moment, he was sure their eyes had met.
The music tugged at him, distracting him, like a mosquito he could not swat away. His head vibrated with the pulse of it. Dizzying—beautiful—painfully sweet, filled with longing—as if the only thing it needed was the one thing he had to offer: a conductor’s hands. For the first time, he hesitated. To shape that wordless chant into a song so powerful that it could shatter the barrier between Time and Forever and allow him to return to her—surely that was worth the pain of the fire.
He swayed toward the edge of the platform. Another moment and he would drown in that sweet ocean of sound. He clawed at the window frame, but his arm would not work. Bewildered, panicking, he looked down at himself. Where his body should have been, he saw only blinding, unending white.
And at last, he understood: there was no going back. He could remain here, poised at the brink of eternity, or he could brave the fire. He had no other choice.
The music swelled. The hiss and crackle tapped out an inevitable counterpoint to the sinuous, pulsating chant of the white inferno. And now there was a new voice in it—hers. Calling. Beckoning. Begging. Her voice drew him inexorably away from the window on Time, toward the fearsome expanse behind him. He searched the nebulous brightness for something, anything. The Void stared back, aloof, expressionless.
There—a fleck of color—and another. It was her voice that was doing it—he knew it. Come. Come. He slid helplessly toward the abyss. The flames licked at him, stinging, burning. He fought—oh, how he fought to pull back from the brink. But the flame and the siren song had him securely in their grasp now.
It was agonizing. Like being ripped, body from soul, divested of everything he had made of himself, stripped back to the naked newborn he had once been. He clung to his prison at the edge of Forever, clung to it with the tenacity of desperation. But the prison was crumbling around him, burning in invisible eruptions of flame.
Brokenly he uttered her name. His voiceless cry reverberated through Forever, melding and fusing with the music, adding color to the undulating texture of eternity. And suddenly, pain seemed a fleeting, trivial thing. The music was enveloping him now, surrounding and caressing him more intimately than any touch he had experienced in life. Filling in holes in his spirit that he had not known existed. His entire being trembled at the silent whisper: Come, Beloved. Come home. Surely in all that beauty, there must be something to redeem him.
With a deep, shuddering sigh, he sank into the waiting arms of Forever.
Click Here for Easy-to-Read B&W Format
If this contribution met with your satisfaction, please consider making a contribution of your own so we may pay our authors and keep the magazine delivering great speculative fiction far into the future. Thank you for visiting.
Copyright 2008, Kathleen M. Basi. All rights reserved.
Kathleen Basi caught the writing bug as a child, but it only began to bear fruit after the birth of her two children. Her novel, The Beggars’ Queen, is available from the Wild Rose Press (www.thewildrosepress.com), and her articles are forthcoming in AIM Magazine from WLP and Family Foundations from the Couple to Couple League. She is a composer of choral and instrumental music available from World Library Publications and GIA Publications. Kathleen blogs about life, parenthood, writing and religion at www.kokopeli74.blogspot.com