THE BEST COMPANY
By Ezra Brooks-Planck
The man blinked. He looked around him. There was nothing. He stood in a vast emptiness. There was no light and no dark. All he knew was that he was existing, but he didn’t know where he was. He didn’t even know if he was.
He hung in the nothingness for a while, before he suddenly heard footsteps. He blinked as smooth white floor materialized underneath his feet. He realized that it had been there the whole time. He turned around and saw a figure. It was the same nothingness that existed all around him, but it stood patiently in front of him, arms clasped behind its nonexistent back.
“Where am I?” the man asked, and his voice seemed to fade as soon as it left his mouth, but the figure still reacted. He could almost feel it smile.
“Of what?” the man asked. The figure didn’t move. When it spoke, the voice seemed to come from everywhere at once.
“You already know what.”
The man thought and decided that he did know. He sat down on the bench that appeared—no, the bench had always been there, the man decided. The figure mimicked him.
“So this is it then?” the man asked and figure crossed its legs.
“This is it.”
“Then this is heaven?” the man asked and figure tilted its head slightly.
“Mmm.” The figure’s reply was noncommittal.
“So this is hell,” the man stated.
“Purgatory, then?” the man asked. As he tried to look at the figure, his eyes kept sliding off the nothingness.
“Closer. But still no.”
The man squinted. “Who are you, then?” he asked of the figure.
“Don’t you already know?”
“Well if this isn’t heaven, then you aren’t god,” the man said, thinking out loud.
“And if this isn’t hell, you aren’t the devil,” the man said and the figure shifted slightly.
“So do you know?”
“I think I do,” the man said, and he could feel the figure smile again.
“Then who am I?”
“You’re both of them,” the man said.
“In a sense.”
The man frowned. “How do you mean?” he asked. The figure shifted its seating again, and then reached forward and picked up its cup that was sitting on the table that was—and had always been—between them. The figure seemed to take a drink before it replied.
“I am both of them, and I am neither of them.”
“A duality,” the man said flatly, picking up his cup. His was filled with tea—the pale green tea that he had always been so fond of.
“So if this is the End, and you are . . . whoever you are, then am I dead?” the man said, taking a sip of tea. It was hot, but comfortably so.
“Yes. And no.”
“The duality again?” the man asked, and the figure nodded, taking a drink of coffee.
“You’ve got it.”
“So then I’m both alive and dead,” the man said, and reached forward to take a biscuit from the small plate on the table.
“You always were, and you never were.”
“Then I’m not on earth, right now, I take it,” the man said and the figure put its cup of coffee down and was quiet while it thought.
“Earth never existed. And it will always exist.”
“But I’m here now. I can’t go back to my old life,” the man said, slowly lowering his cup of tea. He already knew the figure’s answer.
“That is the only definite.”
“But how did I get here?” the man asked.
“You reached the End. And then you arrived.”
“So I died?” the man asked, growing fearful now.
“In a sense.”
“And this is it?” the man asked, panic rising in his chest.
“This is all that ever was, and all that will be.”
The man stared at the figure. In his stomach roiled a mixture of fear and anger. He was fearful, for he had reached an empty nothingness where he would spend eternity, and he was angry that he would have to spend it with this faceless being whose sole purpose seemed to be a bearer of bad news.
“And what am I supposed to do in this nothingness? Sit around and count the seconds?”
“Time does not exist here.”
“But it also does, doesn’t it?” the man asked the figure. He stood up angrily and the table and chairs vanished. The man realized there never had been any table and there never were any chairs. They had always been standing.
“So I’m just supposed to exist, then, am I? Float here in the nothingness and do nothing for the rest of eternity?” the man asked, stepping towards the figure. The figure was just as far away.
“You may, if that is what you wish.”
“What else is there to do?” the man asked incredulously.
“You can create.”
“What?” the man asked, taken aback. He was not expecting the figure to be so frank with him.
“You have the power to create anything that you wish. You have several times already without realizing it.”
“I can?” the man asked, and the figure nodded.
“You created benches, and a table, and coffee and tea. You created the floor we’re standing on. You even created me”
“How? I didn’t try to,” the man said, and he could feel the figure smile yet again.
“Precisely. You expected them to be there, and they were.”
“It’s that easy?” the man said quietly, and the figure surprised the man. The figure laughed. Then it was gone. The man blinked. The laughter echoed in the nothingness.
“It always has been, but it never will be.”
The man looked around, but saw the figure nowhere in the vast nothingness that surrounded him. He stood, alone, in eternity.
He sat down on the floor cross-legged and thought. He thought about everything. His life, his family, his friends, the places he’d been, the places he hadn’t been, the women he had slept with, and the ones who he never had but always wanted to. He thought about the last meal that he ate, and the first meal that he had eaten. He laughed when he thought of funny things and grew sad when he thought of sad things. He grew angry when he thought of situations that had made him angry and smiled again when he looked back on happy memories. After a moment of eternity had slipped by, he glanced up from where he had been playing with his shoelaces and saw a door. He blinked. He stood up.
It was a simple door—black wood, with a small window in it. It stood in a simple door frame that was also black wood. The window was frosted glass, but the man could tell that only the nothingness stood on the other side of it. He frowned. He was not surprised that there was a door in the nothingness—after all, why not?—instead he frowned because it was the door to his house. He stood up and walked over to the door—or maybe the floor just pulled the door towards him like a giant treadmill.
When the door stood in front of him, he reached out and grasped the doorknob. Turning the handle, he opened the door and stepped through. As he passed through the portal, the figure’s words came back to him. You expected them to be there, and they were.
On the other side of the door, the man found exactly what he expected to be there.
About the Author:
Ezra Brooks-Planck has been writing for nearly a decade and recently graduated from Northern Michigan University with a degree in English. He writes whatever interests him from poetry to travelogues, fiction to fantasy. He lives in the Midwest where he writes between his adventures.