Aphelion Issue 291, Volume 28
February 2024
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On Both Sides of Reality

by Sergio Palumbo

(edited by Michele Dutcher)

They are among us.

By 'they', I mean the Living. On every continent, even on the islands -- right, left, and center -- you can find them. Well, a few of them have spread all over the planet by now, but there are not as many of them now as there were in the past. Those who are no longer alive, of course, are among us nowadays.

We stay in the Realm of the Dead, while they exist in the World of Life.

In a way, we are like aliens to each other, like people on two opposite banks of a river who are never meant to meet, to mix together. So we are both on different sides of Reality, for sure.

It all began when that strange and dangerous new virus started spreading faster than wind all over Earth. Some say that it was a sort of biological weapon, but other people think it was something coming from space, or maybe even an ancient virus dormant since the last Ice Age, brought again to life by pollution or climate change...but who really knows?

In a matter of years, this awful illness put to death most of the world population...millions and millions disappeared in a matter of days. Entire towns were left empty and all the continents became an all-but uninhabited wasteland with only a few surviving people, the ones we now call Immortals. Indeed, during those hard times, the surviving men and women discovered an important thing about themselves: they had not only overcome the fast spreading virus, but they had been changed by it, or by the vaccines and anti-viral drugs, or some combination. Now they could live without suffering from any aches, any sickness or other physical problems, and they could live longer, much longer than any other human being before them... maybe forever! In fact, the only way an Immortal could die was if they chose to put an end to their own lives. Catastrophic brain damage or decapitation was the only way to end an Immortal's existence.

But there was another terrible truth awaiting for the surviving ones, the Immortals were sterile, incapable of reproducing...so, in a way, they were the last ones of their kind, and there would be nobody else after them, no one to whom to pass on history, traditions, hopes and suggestions, no heirs to thousands of years of human civilization...

But that was a very bad thing for us, the Dead. We used to go freely on Earth, on this side of Reality, moaning, waiting, keeping a watchful eye on Mankind's present and future. Some of the Living, once upon a time-- before that virus-- knew about us, even if uncertain that we really existed; a few were even able to see us, to speak to us, or even to cooperate with us... Well, there are many among the Dead who are not good at all, literal evil spirits with bad intentions and even worse behavior. They were bad people while Alive and once on this side, they tried to interfere in common life, day by day, influencing humans to harm themselves or others, or causing them every sort of problem, anger or sorrow. Think of gremlins, imps, poltergeists, and so on... Normal humans, at least some of them, had the ability to interact with us, but the Immortals had lost it, along with the ability to bear children.

Now, there is no way of communication between us, no interaction at all. They live their never- ending lives completely unaware of the Dead. We can look at them, we frequently even spy on them, but they can neither see nor hear us at all.

And here's the real problem: we used to be reincarnated in sons and daughters of the Living. We waited for our turn and then simply passed our soul into a newborn child, returning to life on that side, on Earth. So the story had gone for so long...But nowadays they can give birth to sons and daughters no more, so there is no way we can return to life. We are forever barred from that side of existence.

We looked at a few humans every day, searching for a change in them, for a hope...but nothing really happened to the Living for a very long time, at least two thousand years. Then, something occurred to a couple of Immortals who had chosen to live on top of a mountain range in Northern Europe. Both of them were from that place and once worked as scientists. They had been trying to solve the problem of Immortal infertility for many years, experimenting on themselves. Then one day, finally, they succeeded! They were able to conceive a son, but only one...

There was such excitement that day, I still remember...All of us were so happy for that fact, but then the problem was there on the ground for all the Dead...Who would be the first to be reborn into a new body? There were so many of us around, and there was only one boy!

Among us there were discussions, struggles and fights, then one of us prevailed in the end...he was very ancient, very powerful. Most of the Dead would have agreed that he should be the one to be reincarnated first of all, but he won it by force anyway...

When the fight was over, we kept looking at the scene. I still remember us all gathered around the loving two humans when the son faced up to life...even though only one of us could have been reincarnated and finally come back to life, that was a great and unequalled moment for everyone!

But, who knows why, after that single birth, the couple was not able to generate any other new born, for themselves or for any other Immortals. We viewed this news with desperation! No one else among us could ever be reincarnated, as there would be no more children. The one among us who had been reincarnated would be the last one, too. The Immortal human couple tried everything they could to procreate again, but despite dozens of experiments over the next few years, nothing happened in the end. Then one of them, the male, killed himself out of desperation, destroying his mind forever, and his mate soon did the same. The same thing had happened before to many other Immortal men and women, so tired after living so long, leading a senseless never-ending life: when they were sure there was no hope of change, they simply decided to cease being...

In a way, the humans are by now a dying race, because-- after some centuries-- immortality leads to tedium, desperation and lack of interest in living so long.

As for us, we're already Dead, and very likely we will be forced to stay that way also in the future, so what?

Very sad, all of us saw the only remaining son growing up, growing old, day by day...until one morning, the new body changed -- caused within him by the same virus that infected the whole of humanity so long ago-- made him stop growing at all at a certain time, keeping him forever at that age, as a simple Immortal being...as all the other surviving humans.

So, as I said, we had kept watching that little son growing little by little, envying him, admiring his life...because inside him there was one of us, he was again among the other human beings, he could live again on Earth, on human side of Reality...while we were not allowed to!

I am not entirely sure, but I could swear one day I saw him even blow a raspberry to me...

Cruelty seems to be present on both sides of Reality, indeed.


© 2011 Sergio Palumbo

Bio: Sergio (a.k.a. "ente per ente" in the Forum) has accumulated an impressive list of North American publication credits, and was the winner of the September Forum Flash Challenge. His most recent non-Challenge appearance in Aphelion was the Mare Inebrium tale Numinous Presence, in the February 2011 edition.

E-mail: Sergio Palumbo

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