by Zeke Jarvis
There is such a thing as reincarnation, but it’s not quite what most people think. First, when people get reincarnated, they actually get reincarnated into different universes, planes of existence, or however you want to put it. No king or queen ever comes back to the same world but as a peasant. Nor does a mosquito come back to become a celebrity. Second, not every soul gets reincarnated. Some go on to an afterlife, while others go to a new life in a new universe. You might say, “That hardly seems fair,” and you might well be right. But is it unfair to the people who are reincarnated, or is it unfair to the people who move on? We can follow a soul through a few of these universes to consider the question.
In the first universe, people know how they are judged as they enter the afterlife. They are judged by their final day of existence. This means that, as a child, people will often be allowed to misbehave. Their chances of death are low, so parents will indulge them, and others will take second-hand pleasure in the children’s selfish joy. As people get older, though, they strive to become better people, more deserving of reward.
The most distinctive thing about this universe, though, is how people die. They’re almost always murdered. If someone gives their significant other a truly marvelous day, that significant other will kill them in return, assuring their beloved’s reward. If someone saves someone else from pain or death, the saved party will almost immediately kill their savior. This might sound cruel or unethical from our perspective, but if you know that the best moment should be the last moment for someone, then it makes absolute sense. This universe has more souls going to what we would think of as heaven than any other universe.
In this universe, the soul that we’ll follow found a dog that seemed lost. The soul (in this universe, a she) picked the puppy up and petted its head. She whispered to the puppy that things would be okay. Then, she walked the puppy from home to home until she found the owners. They were so glad that they shot her through the head, right there on the spot. It was, in that universe, touching.
In a different universe, people also understand the judgment mechanism, but the mechanism is very different. In this universe the biblical notion that a rich person getting into heaven is harder than a camel getting through the eye of a needle is turned on its head. The richer a person is, the more luxurious their afterlife is. Not surprisingly, it is one of the worst of all possible universes. Not only is slavery de rigueur, but rich people work harder to put impediments towards social mobility than they do to anything else. However, there’s more. They will also support and undercut their children at the same time, trying to keep their children exactly one tier below themselves.
There’s also quite a bit of theft. If money is the driving factor of reward, then following any moral code is absurd. The rich will try to convince mercenaries that, with their support, the mercenaries can increase the quality of their afterlives. But, at some point, the mercenaries will likely murder the rich and their families in order to take the wealth for themselves. To counteract this, the rich will sometimes shoot a mercenary in public, showing that any minor opposition will be met with death. Before the murder, they will steal all worldly goods from that mercenary and divide them amongst the mercenaries that they perceive as loyal. This puts the murdered mercenary in the lowest level of afterlife possible.
What all of this means in practice is that the experience in the physical world is one of constant turmoil and deterioration. Every generation sees a worse world, and people are constantly stealing and murdering. In nearly any other universe the most rewarded people of this universe would be sent to the most punishing sectors of the afterlife. It’s a good example of how the level of awareness of judgment directly affects the quality of life on the physical plane. If the universe was more mysterious, then it’s possible that the people in it would be better, though it’s hard to say. There are many universes where the judgment mechanism is not clear, and people are terrible.
In this universe, the soul we’re following (a he, in this instance) was enslaved. He had to work for hours at a time, nearly ruining his hands, his back, his knees. The day that he died was a hot one. He had been digging for hours after barely having any food and having been pushed too hard for weeks. Dehydrated, emaciated and pushed too far, he fell over. The mercenaries who worked for the overlord quickly went over and began to whip him. You don’t need the graphic detail of the rest. It was his worst and his last day.
One of the strange things about many universes is that hell is typically not as bad as you hear. In our universe, people tend to think of hell as being a place of unceasing torture, and that’s often the case. In some universes, though, it’s more of a large mess hall with long lines and mediocre food, never fully satisfying the damned. In other universes, people just stare off into the distance, unable to find their moorings. There are some bad hells, like the hell where people are forced to watch clown erotica while being flogged with stinging nettles. But many hells are unimaginative. You might think that the mundane nature of the hells is part of their torture, but a day or two in the clown/nettle hell would change your mind. It’s entirely possible that most souls don’t have the deep evil to produce such a hell.
Some universes are what Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts might refer to as “chaotic”. A person could wake up rich or poor, male or female or nonbinary, any race, etc. These universes are surprisingly peaceful. When you might be any possible identity, the impulse to protect all identities is strong. In at least one of these universes that the soul visited, there really wasn’t a heaven or a hell. The afterlife was, like the world, chaotic. You might wake up one morning and be on fire, and you might wake up another morning and be fed grapes while being fanned by grateful admirers. One morning, you might wake up and be working in a cubicle, though, in that form of the afterlife, it’s often someone’s birthday, so there’s at least cake.
In this universe, the soul died when it woke up one morning as a poor and weak child. Unfortunately, the child was without parents for that day. So, the soul stumbled around, coughed a lot, and died before the end of the day. It was not an unusual end of life. Luckily for the soul, people would usually give it a comforting word or a piece of candy to ease the agony of that day. The soul itself had made similar gestures on its previous days in that universe, and it appreciated them on this day.
In the final universe that we will discuss, there is a “judgment day” of sorts. It’s not a day where a God judges an individual. Instead, an individual becomes aware of the impact of all of their actions and decisions. They realize what they have meant to the world and to the other souls that they have touched, directly or indirectly. The problem with this universe is that they don’t fully understand what their judgment day will be. So, by the time the most privileged souls get there, it’s too late for all the marginalized people that they’ve wronged. And, because the souls become aware of this, it’s too late for them as well. All there is when the awareness hits is suffering or, for the rare soul that has done more good than harm, peace. This was the soul’s final destination, as it typically is for souls that are reincarnated. Maybe it’s the accumulated experiences of the different lives in different universes that might give the souls of this universe the perspective to judge their own actions. Or maybe fairness just doesn’t enter into the equation.
About the Author:
Zeke Jarvis is a Professor of English at Eureka College. His work has appeared in Moon City Review, Posit, and KNOCK, among other places. His books include, So Anyway..., In A Family Way, The Three of Them, and Antisocial Norms.