When you die, there’s a tunnel of light.
There are gates made of pearls, where a keeper waits at the very end to let you pass into Heaven or turn you away.
For some, there’s a deep well that leads to a cavern of still water. A wide glassing river and a boatman cloaked in black, who ferries you to the Judge so that your sins can be balanced by the weight of a very dense feather.
For others there is ladder of reincarnation. A stair of life that banks wisdom until you’re ready to enter paradise.
For many of us there is nothing. A yawning void of cold eternal blackness, stretching across the dying ionic winds of Hawking radiation. A frozen expanse of too much entropy spread across too much time.
For some, there are none of those things at all.
For these people, the first thing they see when they die is a man.
A plain man with no discernible features, who wears patch-work garments stitched from old military uniforms. If you look close enough – beneath the rags of digital, jungle and woodland camo -- beneath the layers of oiled leather and wool – you'll see bits of animal fur and shreds of pale red, ancient-faded Roman-like cloaks.
This man embraces you with quiet reverence. He tells you to dry your eyes, and he asks you to follow him.
And as you walk through a dimensionless place – a non-place; a state of transition and nothing more – you see endless caverns and beyond their thresholds you can make out the silhouettes of countless men, women and children moving and interacting with each other just beyond the shadow-light’s reach.
“These rooms,” the man tells you, “house the people who gave their lives in very extraordinary ways.”
In one cavern, he points out, there are people who gave their lives so that another could protect someone they love. So that another could protect their own life. So that they could protect their home.
The next cavern is the place for men, women and children who died in war.
In the cavern after that, men and women who took their own lives are given a place to rest.
“Those people over there,” he continues, tilting his head toward another cavern. “Were victims of chance. Their lives were given to people who never intended to take them.”
Deeper into the non-place – beyond the caverns – there is an altar.
The man in the patchwork garments of war kneels, and upon that altar is a gun.
It’s a non-gun – a concept of a gun – with the shadow-shape of every firearm that’s ever existed – a formless, shape-shifting machine-like black limb covered in blood.
The altar itself is bleeding, but there is a beauty to it. A glistening rose of rippling light.
You’d expect it to be gory or horrifying, but it isn’t. What you see is astonishing.
It’s the stunning red of love and passion.
The scarlet of rage and life.
Of tidal femininity, and of shielding masculinity.
If at this point the soul looks away, the featureless plain-looking man will pull him or her into a warm embrace and search their eyes. If he sees tears there, he will wipe them and try to comfort the soul as much as he can.
If the soul asks: “Why are you showing me this?”
The man will regard them reverently and say: “Because war is duty. And this is my duty.”
The man will wipe the tears from the dead soul’s cheeks that are swollen from grief and say, “you have nothing to be ashamed of. No reason to feel sad, for you are held in the highest esteem.”
“Why?” The soul will ask, staring into the man’s shifting face, thinking about the people they left behind so abruptly.
“Because you gave your life for the most important reason of all,” he’ll say. “You sacrificed yourself so that someone else could feel power.”
And when the soul feels rage in that moment, the man will meet their lost gaze so he can be sure that they understand: “Because for one singular moment in that person’s sad, pathetic, cruel, aimless life, you made them feel like they had control. You gave them that.”
The featureless man will stand and pay his respects to the altar of power – still red with all of its donated life – and he’ll escort the new soul to their place of honor among the incalculable others that have been fed to it.