A Death on the Interstate
One thumb pointed towards the night sky, I stroll along an interstate lit by the Milky Way. A lonely pair of headlights rattle towards me; an old Chevy shitbox squeaks down the asphalt. The starlight reflects a rusted orange into my pupil: my least favorite color. It stops beside me and the window rolls down. Behind the wheel sits a skeleton, wearing nothing but a red bandana and an eyepatch over each socket. It asks me if I need a lift, then chuckles at my speechlessness.
“I’m just Death, kid, that’s all. Nothing to be afraid of. Do you want that ride or not?” it asks. I hesitate. Normally I wouldn’t accept rides from the kinds of people who drive trucks (especially old, shitty ones at that), but something about the stranger’s gumless grin radiates trustworthiness. Besides, who knows when the next hitchhiker-friendly stranger will pass. I hop into the passenger seat.
“So, where are we headed?” It asks. I scan the truck’s interior, half expecting to find a trunk full of snakes or a nest full of locusts or a limb full of maggots—at the very least the fabled scythe. To my surprise, and slight disappointment, the cab is spotless. Its only ornamentation is an ornate sugar skull sitting upon the dashboard.
“Isn’t that a bit vain?” I ask it, gesturing towards the skull.
“If you were as beautiful as me, wouldn’t you keep a reminder?” Point taken. “You didn’t answer my question. Where am I taking you?”
“Down the interstate.” I feel it glare at me through its eyepatches. “Fine, fine. I don’t know, honestly. I guess I’ll know when I get there.”
“Fair enough,” it replies, “we’re all headed to the same place eventually, anyways. “ It bursts into laughter, and I can’t help but join in. Who knew Death had a sense of humor?
We continue cruising down the highway, swapping jokes and stories. I tell it of my first love and my last. It tells me of its existence before life entered the scene, and what he expects it will be like after. I describe my favorite landmarks and national parks. It describes its favorite solar systems across the universe. I show it a little trick I can do with my double-jointed thumbs. It detaches its head and spins it on its index bones like a basketball. We become fast friends.
“So how can you see through those eyepatches over your sockets?” I ask it, quickly realizing how dumb that question must sound this late into our trip and after watching it pull its head clean off.
“I don’t really see anything. Or hear anything, for that matter.” Suddenly my question feels more important than idiotic, and I’m delighted I asked.
“Then how have you been driving? And having this conversation with me?”
“Well, even though I don’t see—or hear, or smell—anything, I can feel all of it. And I mean all of it: everything, everywhere, in every conceivable universe. I can feel your energy when you ask me questions, and that energy dictates the energy of my response, which I vibrate through the air into your sensory organs in a way that your limited mode of perception can decode.”
“Oh…. Cool.” I reply, not sure how else to respond. I stare out the window for a few minutes before formulating my next question. “But if you’re here with me right now, how can you feel everything everywhere else?”
“Kid, I am no more this pile of bones than you are that sack of meat. What you see is not actually me, but an incredibly dumbed down version of me that you can easily interpret. I can feel everything, everywhere, because I am everything, everywhere.”
“How can Death be everywhere if I am alive?”
“What is life but an expression of death? They are two sides of the same coin. You were dead far longer than you’ve been alive before you were born, and you’ll be dead a lot longer than you were alive after you perish. If duration is any sort of indicator, wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that you are more dead than you are alive—that you’re more Death than you are life?”
“Okay, okay. So maybe humans like myself are more death than life. But what about trees that live for hundreds of years? What about those immortal jellyfish?”
“What about them? When your sun explodes or your oceans fill up with plastic or your kind nukes everything else into oblivion, those jellyfish will spend the same eternity in death as the rest of us. Do you have any idea how long forever is?”
“Of course you don’t. It is beyond your comprehension, at least in your current, human incarnation.” The conversation feels a bit heavy to me at this point, and I am tempted to show Death how I can roll my tongue into a taco to change the subject. I’ve made it this far, though, and should probably search for answers while I can. After all, it’s not everyday Death gives you a lift down the highway.
“So if you’re Death, and you’re everything, and if I’m more death than life, does that mean I’m everything too?”
“Now you’re starting to get it.”
“So then, what is Death, exactly? And don’t say everything.”
“Finally, you ask the right question. Death, kid, is the ultimate state of conscious awareness. It is the consciousness that fills every gap before and after life, and that surrounds life itself. It is the natural state of existence. It is the natural state of all things. Death is the beginning, and Death is the end. Death is the source from which all life springs, and to which all life returns. Death is god itself.”
“Does that mean… Does that mean I am God?”
“When you die, yes. Your consciousness will rejoin the limitless state of perception that is Death. That is everything.”
“Then what is life? What did you mean when you said it’s an expression of death?”
“Sometimes infinite awareness can be… overwhelming. Sometimes Death grows tired of being everything, everywhere, always, and it wants to experience itself with a fresh, innocent mode of perception. Such a narrow point of view is accomplishable only through the manifestation of life. Life, kid, breathes mystery and excitement back into death. But you’ve asked enough questions for one day, and now it’s my turn. I still haven’t got a clear answer from you: where on earth am I taking you?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You would be dead already if that’s what I wanted.”
“Then how about the next burger joint we come across so I don’t starve to death anyways. I can find someone else to bother after that.”
“Works for me.” We drive down the highway in silence for a few minutes, until I give up trying to process everything that Death just told me.
“Hey Death,” I chirp after a while. “Wanna see this cool trick I can do with my tongue?”