The Room Without Sunlight
“You’re dead,” says the young man’s ghost.
“You’re alive,” says the old man’s ghost.
Evan wakes up, gasping. His eyes refuse to focus. The hard floor is nothing of home and shoves up against his ribs. He sits up, feeling as if there is a great weight on his chest, wringing the air and energy out of him.
“It’s about time you joined us. I thought you were just going to float forever.” A male voice, one he hasn’t heard before. Evan looks around, but sees no one. The sound seems to come from everywhere, yet nowhere. The room is bare; wood floors, no door, one open window. He has never been to this place. Evan stands, slow and careful.
“No need to look so alarmed. We are not here to harm you.” A different voice, creaking and dry like used tinder. Evan turns in a circle, his eyes wide, hands clenched, sees no one.
“Stop messing around. If you don’t leave now, you’ll be stuck in this little room for the rest of eternity.” The first voice, coming from behind him this time. Evan whips around and spots a young man, sullen and sharp, lounging in the far corner. It takes Even a moment to realize that the young man’s feet aren’t touching the ground, instead he floats several inches above the floor.
“Do not be a fool, he cannot be bound because he is still alive. Only the dead rest eternal.” The second voice, coming from the opposite corner. As Evan watches, an old man appears.
“So, you’re both… dead?” Evan asks, hesitant but too curious to stay silent. The young man sneers.
“We’re all dead here. You may not have remembered it yet, but you’re dead all the dame.” The young man stares in Evan’s eyes, as if trying to gauge his reaction. Evan shakes his head, steps back and back and back until he hits the wall. The old man sighs, like a breeze through stale leaves.
“Do not take his words to heart. You live, just as you have always done. You are in this room because of a simple… misunderstanding.” The old man says, his words soft, echoing, as if come from a great distance.
“Yeah, yeah, I must be alive. I can feel my heart beating, I’m breathing.” Evan says, his conviction shallow. The young man laughs. It’s not a happy sound.
“You think that because your heart beats, that you’re alive? Because you’re breathing you must still have your vital spark? I can still feel my heart beat, I still breathe! But I am most certainly not alive!” The young man spits, furious. Evan jerks back, but has nowhere to go. He stares at the young man, a heavy sense of doubt, fear, settling in between the cracks of his bones. The old man shakes his head, smiling at Evan. Evan tries to smile back.
“Please, disregard his words. You are alive, you must know that you are alive. It is an undeniable fact. I know you feel the life within you.” The old man says, his faith tangible and ethereal as dust motes caught in the window’s light. Evan says nothing, his thoughts falling headlong in the echoes of his mind. Evan doesn’t feel alive, he doesn’t even know what alive would feel like. All Evan feels is fear. Fear that he died without noticing.
“Oh yeah. That’s a helpful argument. What does alive even feel like? Even before I died, I couldn’t have told you what alive feels like. Kid, you’re dead. You can’t remember how you got here, right? And you don’t know what day it is, or even the last thing that happened, do you?” The young man says, his lips twisting into a smirk. Evan swallows, unable to speak.
The fact is, Evan has no idea how he got here. The last thing he remembers is pulling an all-nighter, trying to finish his thesis. Or maybe… or maybe the last thing he remembers is Lila; Lila breaking it off with him because he couldn’t balance their relationship with his doctoral work. The element of time seems to have disappeared from his memories, leaving them tangled together in a code he has no cipher for. Evan closes his eyes.
“Memories are fragile, perilous things. Even for the living, they can become disordered. But think not of them, think of what brought you joy. Think of when your heart fluttered like a caged bird and your mind seemed lost in a surge of emotions too deep to understand. That is life. In death we may speak and breathe and move, but we do not feel such depth.” The old man says, his voice rising and falling like the tide. Evan takes a shuddering breath to stem his fear.
He can’t remember feeling like that. He knows he must have, he knows. But his memories are so twisted together that he can’t find the great moments, so lost are they in the small. He knows he must love Lila with a furious, consuming passion. He knows that his research has always sparked a flame in a his mind, in his heart; a flame the drove him through grueling hours and teaching uninterested freshman in overstuffed 101 classes. He knows, but he can’t remember. He can’t remember what it feels like.
“Don’t look so down. This must all be very stressful for you, I guess, but there is always one way to find out.” The young man says, with something akin to sympathy.
“What?” Evan asks. The young man jerks his head in the direction of the window.
“It’s a long way down, but if you’re dead it doesn’t matter.” The young man replies, smiling. Evan looks to the old man.
“That is life, uncertainty. In death, we gain perspective.” The old man says, not unkind. Evan tries to remember his headlong, out of control love for Lila and feels nothing. He walks to the window.