Everything Pans Out In The End
A Short Story
Theodore A Henning II
Special Shakespir Edition
Diedra recalled the conversation.
“Predetermined! Everything is predetermined; where you live, what college you will go to, whom you will fall in love with, and then of course, when and how you die, and even your fate afterwards,” Bobby had said during the discussion on the Saturday before.
“What happened to free-will?” Diedra had asked.
“It’s locked within the myriad upon myriad of episodes each and all funneling you forward like a venturi effect on to the next episode until you are at the end!”
Auburn haired 25 year-old Diedra Prost, had never seriously considered the notion before. She was a restorative curator at one of Philadelphia’s most prestigious museums, highly educated, and near to be at the top of her game. To her, there is no God, everyone is a free soul, able to decide for oneself from the differing choices that confront us every day. Still, the tenants of the conversation disturbed her.
Every day she made her way to the preservation room at the Sternholz Museum, which might appear foreboding to the uninitiated. For Diedra it was her sanctum, a place she usually felt vibrant and alive. Located below ground, her expansive room was specially engineered within the basement of the building. Without windows, it is a dry, secure atmospherically controlled environment for safely keeping the ancient artifacts catalogued there.
The somewhat macabre space she utilized was home to several sarcophagus, dozens of bowls, pots, and other items of everyday use in Egyptian life, many items dating back several hundred years B.C. In addition to the lone mummy of a young teenage woman, kept hermitically sealed under glass, there were the papyri scrolls and fragments.
Diedra Prost, Ph.D. candidate Egyptologist, Deedee to her few close friends, sat alone at the broad wooden worktable under a special wavelength emitting florescent light. She carefully pieced together papyrus segments that had long ago separated, long before the museum had acquired them. These fragments were considered more ‘modern’ than the truly ancient texts cut in stone, these fragments contained pictographs and hieroglyphs she was quite familiar with.
Her given field of study had brought her to this moment. She had but to finalize her dissertation, then defend it orally, and that would be that. Diedra looked forward to when she could drop the Ms. from her title, and replace it with Doctor. The journey had been arduous, and up until now, worth the struggle. She had spoken the epithet silently in her mind many times before. Doctor Diedra Prost. It has a nice ring to it, she had said to herself.
Shaking her head as if someone had blown in her ear, she felt air movement when there shouldn’t have been any. The sensation sent a cold chill down her back. She shrugged, momentarily remembering the hours of discussion she had had with ‘the girls,’ Tammy, Bobby and Gloria Jean over the weekend.
Life as she had previously foreseen it was settled, chiseled in stone perhaps. Now, after that one discussion, she wasn’t all that confident. What she once gaged to be her stoic existential outlook had been pummeled, and a resultant chink in her confident demeanor surfaced. For the first time in her life she felt fear, real lingering fear, the kind of sensation that has substance, you know, almost as if you could cut it with a knife!
It had been a late Saturday afternoon gathering of friends around an each-one bring-one salad mixer. The topics of discussion had spanned the gamut of female interests. Then the mood changed when Tammy breached the tranquility with her outburst, and everything went downhill from then on.
The television had been on, muted in the background. Their heads occasionally bobbed up to catch the picture, and then back down to their salad portions, and conversation. All of a sudden the news channel displayed a graphic video of a Buddhist monk in Thailand dousing himself with gasoline and self-igniting!
“Holy shit! Look at that guy! He lit himself up like a candle!” Tammy shouted pointing to the screen. They all glued their gazes to the figure engulfed in the flames.
They bantered. “That’s got to hurt,” someone remarked.
“Why do you think he did that?” said no one in particular.
“Got to be a religious statement.”
“He’s a monk for heavens sake! Aren’t they the ones closest to God or something?”
Deedee had a thought she didn’t voice, “He’s going to meet him/her now.”
“Why think that when I don’t even believe in God, any god,” she had asked herself after thinking the thought. It was a strange thought for an educated woman who really didn’t believe God existed to have. Diedra is an agnostic from a family of agnostics. Although she had no particular spiritual or religious beliefs, she had spent a good part of her life studying the archaeological record of a culture group who spent most of their livelihood preparing for death, and a hoped for afterlife existence!
No matter how hard she tried to avoid the subjects of religion, god and death, aspects always found a way into the discussion. Maybe that was because she was always dealing with the stuff of dead people, Diedra had figured. That, and being close to ‘piled higher and deeper’ as her friends put it. They were only jesting, she understood.
Yet even though the ‘girls’ were of differing aptitudes and interests, they had grown to like each other’s company. And given the competitive attitude amongst them, that figure of speech was simply a gentle jab in her ribs, to bring her down to earth so to speak, and Diedra wasn’t the least bit slighted by it. She laughed right along we them.
“You know, only about 17% of our world’s population believes in annihilation when we die, the rest believe in some sort of existence after death,” Tammy remarked to the group.
Gloria Jean added, “Correct me if I’m wrong, the remaining 83% is divided between those who believe in reincarnation and those who don’t. Some non-reincarnators even believe the human soul simply goes off wandering, wandering forever and ever, aimlessly. “
It seemed ludicrous, and in a way, humorous to think of a nebulous soul wandering aimlessly forever. They laughed at that, in part to temper the horror of the monk’s action caught on TV.
“Others believe in oneness of souls, each soul becoming one with a greater consciousness, the sum total of all the earthly departed,” Bobby said. “But we can’t dismiss the millions of people who believe Hell of the Bible is real.”
“I like that oneness thing,” Tammy had said.
That sounded kind of Jung-ish to Diedra, for which she added little to the discussion.
Someone blurted, “But jihadists believe if they die for the cause, they’ll be rewarded with 70 virgins in heaven!”
They all belly laughed together discussing the virgins, and concluded the poor fellows didn’t know what they were asking for! You would think if jihadist heaven offers all that sexual pleasure a guy would desire 70 women with some experience! Now, that would be some kind of memorable party they agreed!
Someone posed the question about women Jihadists. No one ever mentions the reward they get! Seventy male virgins? The giggling continued but they didn’t even let their discussive imaginations go there. It was hard for the conversation to stay serious.
For several weeks, Diedra had been piecing together funerary papyri of utterances, commonly viewed as spells in her trade, spells that in part comprise the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. The earliest pharaohs were acutely aware of the dangers facing their royal soul after death. Priests by the scores kept their amanuenses busy carving the royal tomb walls and sarcophagus with the prescriptions necessary to protect the pharaoh’s remains. The ‘Book’ consisted of pronunciations dealing with re-animation, and the subsequent means to pass through the heavens, to Ra, that each deceased soul must follow in becoming Osiris, the Egyptian deity of afterlife. Yet Diedra knew that at some point in Egyptian history, the focus of the death religion changed, as did the spell rituals, no longer to be prescriptive of a heavenly journey, but of a dangerous, oft frightening underworld trek.
Dante had written of a hellish place deep in the bowels of the earth. His description of Hades was emphatically brutal to the senses; unbearable heat, diabolical creatures, and a tortuous existence ever prolonged without an end in sight. It was a fate any sane person would give everything to avoid. Diedra thought of the long-ago Egyptians, and the fears they must have had. She considered her own newfound apprehension in light of the predetermination discussion that had gone on.
“Was it possible the Egyptians were predetermined to build pyramids and great religious complexes?” she wondered. “Were the Mayas and Aztecs also predetermined to carve still-beating hearts out of sacrificial victims atop their pyramidal structures?”
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