Fred Thorson had been dead for fifteen million years.
About forty-two thousand years ago he’d asked to see The Assessor. He was told there would be a wait. Finally, an appointment was scheduled. Fred showed up a few centuries early.
“Hello, Fred,” said The Assessor.
“Hi!” Fred said, pretending to make himself comfortable.
“How can I help you?”
Fred scratched, though of course there was no itch. It was a habit he had when nervous. “Well, sir — I’ve been here a long time, and I’ve enjoyed it.”
“Excellent!” stressed The Assessor.
“But lately, over the last three or four million years or so … I dunno…”
The Assessor furrowed his nimbus.
“I’m not complaining,” Fred continued, not wanting to upset The Assessor. “I’ve appreciated the whole experience, and am very grateful. I just thought that maybe I could move on, if that’s possible.”
The Assessor seemed amused. “To where, Fred?”
Fred shrugged. “I thought maybe I could, whatever you call it, sort of vanish into the unity.”
“You want to cease?”
“Yes! That’s a good way of putting it.”
The Assessor sighed. “Fred. We can talk about this. But I want you to know upfront that it would be impossible for you to simply disappear. May I ask you a few questions?”
Fred was upset by this news. And apprehensive about direct queries. He cautiously nodded. “Yes, of course.”
“So … when you were alive you made it very clear you wanted to have an afterlife forever, correct?”
“…Yes. That was a long time ago, but yes, that’s what I remember wanting. And it’s been a satisfactory experience for the most part.”
The Assessor nodded. “And when you died you were reunited with your deceased loved ones?”
“Yes! Most of them. That was very nice.”
“How are they?”
Fred straightened up a bit but began to squirm. “Well, we drifted apart after a few hundred thousand years or so. I bump into some of them now and then. They seem to be doing fine.”
“Good. However, there were some loved ones you didn’t see. Correct?”
“Because during their lives they opted for what you refer to as ‘vanishing into the unity.’”
Fred nodded. “Right.”
“We give people choices. Two choices.”
“Well, Fred,” said The Assessor with another sigh, “I must be blunt about this. You made your choice.”
Fred understood, but not completely. “Sir. Why can’t you change your choice?”
“Because,” said The Assessor, “What if someone who’d made the choice to, again using your phrase vanish into the unity, wanted to change their choice? Of course, changing their choice would never occur to them because they do not exist anymore. But the point is, why would you get to choose again if they don’t? We like to play fair, Fred.”
Fred was straining to understand all this, while not wanting to appear argumentative. He was hesitant to ask a bold question, but did. “So this is Hell, sort of?”
The Assessor snorted. “This is not Hell, Fred. Heaven and Hell are quaint terms. We’ve never used them. True, there are two places. One is here, the other is nowhere. Tell me, which one sounds like Hell to you?”
Fred was quiet.
“Let me give you a little advice, Fred. You’ve been here for only fifteen million years. That’s a drop in the eternity bucket. Give yourself some time.”
Fred let this sink in. “Thank you, sir,” he said.
And he turned around, taking in the unending expanse of The Everlast.
“I guess it’s not that bad,” Fred said to himself, and trundled along.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on December 6, 2016.