I remember thinking to myself that we shouldn’t be doing this, that even though the weather forecast said no rain, the ominous thunderclouds gathering in great bunches to the south were singing a different tune. I remember wishing I had worn my other shoes, the ones with the good rubber souls. I remember cursing out whoever decided that the trail should follow the thin shelf along the ridge. I remember the panic in my friend’s eyes when the first raindrops hit us, heavy and cold.
I remember falling, the wind whistling past as I outraced the rain on our way to the valley floor. I remember the sun starting to peek out from behind a cloud. Then nothing.
It wasn’t like I had always imagined. Images of my life didn’t flash before my eyes. There was no tunnel, no bright light. There were no voices of loved ones beckoning, calling me home. There was no choir of angels and no pearly gates and no clouds. There were none of the things I had been taught to expect.
I am in a long corridor. Angular and sterile, it looks like a Museum of Contemporary Art. Doorways open at odd intervals, each emitting a light of a different color. I wander down the hallway and come to an intersection, each direction the mirror image of the others. I choose the left. I come to another intersection, same as the first. This time, I choose right.
I have no idea how long I amble down the labyrinthine passageways before I start to see and hear them. At first they are just murmurs and shadows, vague notions that something else is here. Then they start to come into focus. The first one I see is a medieval knight, clomping down the hallway in his armor. I try to talk to him, but he doesn’t seem to hear me. I motion to him, but he passes me as if I don’t exist. I turn around just in time to see a small Asian girl in a school uniform running straight at me. I brace myself for the collision, but she darts right through me. I come to another intersection and panic as a tiger, snarling and ferocious, rounds the corner.
“Don’t worry. It can’t hurt you.”
The voice is cool, serene. But I don’t know where it’s coming from.
“Excuse me? Who said that?”
I follow sound the voice and turn around. Standing in front of me is a human form, but unlike any that I have ever seen. Radiant and shining, as if made by pure light, the being seems neither masculine nor feminine.
“Who are you? Where am I?”
“I am Sidpa. I am your guide to the Hallways of Always.”
“My guide to what?”
“This place you have entered. This is the Hallways of Always. It is where souls go to transmigrate as they pass from one body to another.”
As Sidpa speaks the corridor grows ever more crowded, like the hallways of a high school in between classes. But instead of teenagers, it’s filled with people of every nationality, every age, from every time period. There is every type of animal. And there are the other things, fantastic Dr. Seussian creatures, like the seven-legged, two-headed beast shuffling it’s way towards me.
Sidpa sees the look on my face.
“In an infinite universe, you don’t think that life only exists on one minuscule planet do you?”
“I… I guess not.”
“I know. This is not easy to wrap your head around.”
“So I’m dead?”
“Yes… And no. Your soul is everlasting. It has been here before, an innumerable amount of times. When you are done in one body, you come here and choose another. See, watch him.”
Sidpa motions towards a man sauntering down the passageway. Clad in the rigid, formal wool uniform of a Russian World War II soldier, the man pauses at each colored doorway, as if window-shopping. Some he walks away from quickly, others he stays at longer, as if pondering whether or not to enter.
“He’s getting a feel for them, choosing where he wants to go next, and who, or what, he wants to be. Time and distance do not exist here. You can go wherever you want. You can be your favorite leader from history, your favorite animal. You can even be the parent of the person you were last time. The only life you can’t choose is the one you just lived. Unless you were taken before your time.”
The soldier comes to a another doorway and peers into it. Electric blue light reflects on his face. He exudes peace and understanding. We both know this is the one. Right before he steps through the threshold, he discards the incarnation of the soldier, leaving it on the doorstep like a snake shedding its skin, revealing the luminous soul beneath. I watch in awe as it disappears into the neon-tinted void.
“But what about you?” I ask. “Do you ever go through a doorway?”
There is no answer. I look around, but Sidpa is gone. I stand and watch as others slip through doorways. I gaze into the closest portal. Through a vibrant orange haze I see a collection of yurts on the Mongolian Steppe. I see a man and woman and immediately feel a pang of familial love. I walk to the next and I feel like I’m transported underwater. I see a pod of dolphins swimming all around me. I hear their squeaks and am surprised that I understand what they are saying. I continue down the hallway, surveying each door, and each life contained within.
Down the long corridor, I see a vivid green doorway that seems to pulsate. As I get closer I feel it pull me in, like a magnet. Before I even get there, I know. This is the one. I let the emerald glow swallow me up as I walk through.
I see a bright, white light. I hear a voice with a slight Indian accent. A shadow cuts across and a man’s face comes into focus. I try to lift my head, but can’t.
“Don’t try to move,” the man says. “I’m Dr. Sidpa. You were pretty lucky to survive a fall like that, we thought we lost you.”
I lay there, my mind wandering, trying to separate truth from illusion, memory from myth.
“Yep, pretty lucky.” Dr. Sidpa continues, giving me a wink. “Or maybe it just wasn’t your time.”
Written by: Ben Cook
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal