A Spiritual Odyssey

Grantley Morris

Free Christian Fiction

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Chapter 1: The Endless Palace

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What the . . . ? I spun around to see what terrors were lurking behind me. Unconvinced, I completed the 360 degrees at breakneck speed, my heart pounding. What is this place? How . . . ?

Every cell in my brain and body seemed to be straining for maximum output, readying me for whatever threat or challenge the next few seconds might bring. As extreme as my nervous tension was, my racing brain could not avoid the awareness that whatever this place was, it seemed to sparkle. It made the brightest sun-soaked, blue-skied day seem drab, and the crispest of mornings feel flat. The atmosphere seemed charged with something I can find no name for, and so clear it seemed as if I could see a thousand miles in any direction. It was as if my eyes were suddenly opened to the fact that everything I had ever seen before had been caked with a layer of grime. It would be wrong to imply it was glary but it was so pristine that it was like seeing something so white that you suddenly realize that what you had previously thought was brilliant white is a dirty cream. And somehow every other hue seemed equally pure and radiant.

The floor was fascinating but I was too on edge to study it. The sky was too bizarre to dare even think about. And there was something mind-numbingly disturbing: never before had I even imagined a place so terrifyingly empty. Every direction seemed to stretch out forever and yet nowhere was there anything, except the dead flat floor. To this day I still puzzle over how any place could look so enormous. Did it lack the curvature of an earth-sized planet? Could it even curve slightly upwards? My initial reaction – and this was soon confirmed – was that its gravity felt roughly earthlike.

You might think it ludicrous but in this overwhelming expanse I felt consumed by nothingness; swallowed up by a void so incomprehensibly vast that it sucked from me every illusion of dignity. I seemed stripped to total insignificance, like an infinitesimal fragment of dust lost in interstellar space, utterly undetectable by any consciousness other than my own. I had heard of the fear of open spaces. Now I understood it. And I wished I didn’t. To the core of my being it felt that even if this solitary speck of dust that was me were somehow chanced upon, it would be instantly dismissed as utterly devoid of interest or value.

The haunting silence and the stillness of the atmosphere somehow further intensified my aloneness. Despite it all, however, I continued on hyper-alert; my senses inexplicably driven by a heart-pounding sense of danger.

A noise startled me. My eyes darted in that direction. Two people were approaching. I panicked. Seized by some mindless compulsion to become invisible, I threw myself on the floor. Once there, I flattened myself even more, in a pathetically inadequate attempt to hide in a completely open space.

Where did they come from? I asked myself in alarm. Even though my 360-degree scan just moments before had been at panic speed, how could I have missed them?

A second look at those approaching exposed my error. ‘People’ was not the right word. Shock tore through my body. Though humanoid in appearance, they were giants. With the entire place being totally featureless, plus the light and atmosphere somehow manifesting unearthly clarity, distance perception was alarmingly close to impossible. Nevertheless, I felt sure these beings were monstrously huge.

In a frantic attempt to hide, I tried vainly to flatten my body still more, while thinking myself stupid for assuming a position from which it was most difficult to either flee or fight. But then again, what my eyes were now telling me indicated that if things turned nasty, either attempt at survival would be ludicrous. It was far more than size that set these lifeforms apart. They looked vastly superior to anything I had ever before laid eyes on. And they were heading straight for me.

Trying to hide on an open floor is absurd! I told myself, I might as well stand and face my fate like a man. I staggered to my feet, but as they drew closer this seemed a serious mistake.

One of the lifeforms heading toward me towered at least half a body length higher than any human I had ever seen, and was massively built. The other was even bigger. In their most literal meaning, words like stunning and breathtaking would almost seem adequate to describe the fearsome majesty of their appearance and mannerisms. But we cripple these words; squandering them on less emotionally shattering experiences than the one that was overwhelming me. I was not quite terrified – overawed would seem a better description of my reaction – and yet strength was draining from me as I might expect if I were staring at a vicious animal poised to pounce and tear me apart. It seemed more than an emotional reaction. It was as if these beings radiated some form of energy that threatened to sap the very life from me. It was like trying to stand chest-deep in a ferocious torrent that could drown me any moment.

I panicked. In the split second before I knew I would black out, I looked to God, as instinctively as a falling man would grab at something solid. I uttered no word – not even in my thoughts – nor did I consciously change my posture. No time. No need. I knew that God knew I was serious. Nothing else mattered. I felt abandoned. God seemed a universe away. So what? Anytime, anywhere, he is there.

As a frightened child clings to its mother, and a drowning man clings to a lifebuoy, I clung to God, my only hope. Instantly, it felt as if supernatural energy were pumping into me. The frantic, life-giving exchange transcends explanation, but seemed analogous to a battery being charged. Somehow I was drawing strength from the Infinite One. Before long I felt I might survive in the presence of these unnerving entities, but still I longed to find somewhere to hide from them. I was mystified but relieved that so far they seemed not to see me.

“O Chebon,” said the shorter one, “it’s been thirty earth-years, and the sight of that empty throne still breaks my heart.”

I was shocked to the core to hear this alien being speaking English. Now, months later, I’m rather proud of my reaction. When I first traveled overseas I could hardly believe I was really there because I could not hear the appropriate background music that the television set of my childhood had conditioned me to expect. Despite many Sci-Fi movies suggesting otherwise, hearing someone so obviously nonhuman speak English startled me as much as hearing a crocodile speak in a human voice.

I needed to drink in their every word. It was surely my best chance of discovering where I was and what was happening. But distractions were everywhere. Everything hitting my senses – even the air – differed from anything I had ever before experienced. I was captivated by their skin. I can only describe it as golden and glowing and yet it was real skin; nothing like flesh covered with stage paint. And rather than reflecting light, the glow somehow seemed to come from within these beings. Both of them had hair that was long and whitish and seemed too fluffy to be hair. When I dared glance at their eyes, I concluded that ‘fiery’ was the only way to describe Chebon’s. The eyes of the other were a mysterious pinky-silver that might almost be called peaceful if they were not so alien. They were garbed in . . . well I had to focus on what they were saying.

“The pain sears through each of us, Zyra,” replied Chebon.

“Chebon” . . . “Zyra” . . . “earth-years” . . . What is going on . . . ? My mind sped but the conversation continued.

“I didn’t think this whole dimension could be so . . .” the one who must have been called Zyra appeared to be struggling for the right word. “. . . Dismal,” he finally blurted. “I know we have so much to delight in, but the everlasting sun’s absence . . .”

The “sun’s absence”? My brain whirled. It’s bright here! Come to think of it – Not having recalled seeing a sun or suns, I quickly scanned the sky and failed to see any. Neither did I see any shadows. Does this enormous area have some sort of artificial light source? No human technology could achieve that.

Oblivious to my racing thoughts, the conversation continued. “We all miss him terribly, Zyra.”

“Him”? Is this extraterrestrial calling the sun “him”? My overloaded brain was trying to shoot off more questions per second than it has ever been capable of. He was referring to the sun, wasn’t he? Does this mean he is assigning a personality to the sun? Is he more primitive than he looks? Should I be calling this being ‘he’ or ‘she’? Which sun? Earth’s sun? What “empty throne”?

I will be merciful: in the rest of this account I will be more selective when quoting from the chaotic tangle of thoughts stampeding through my brain when I am stressed. That should spare you a headache, even if it gives the false impression that my mind is tidier than the mess on my desk as I type this.

Back to being thrown by hearing the sun referred to as ‘he’: I recalled that some non-English languages assign gender to inanimate objects. Could this be a feature of these aliens’ native tongue? Had I detected a significant linguistic clue? Is he speaking English for my benefit? Why do they act as if I don’t exist? Am I invisible to them? How much danger am I in? Showing no sign of easing up, the stream of bug-eyed thoughts continued to bolt in panic-stricken mayhem through the embarrassingly wide open spaces of my cranium.

The humanoids seemed to look through me and act in every way as if I did not exist. My immense relief at being ignored was strangely mingled with bewilderment, smeared with a hollow, hard-to-identify feeling. I found myself increasingly shocked as, in painful slow motion, the realization mounted that instead of wanting to celebrate surviving the most harrowing of encounters, the anticlimax somehow left me feeling let down; almost disappointed.

If, before their arrival, the vast, haunting emptiness felt alarmingly dehumanizing, being ignored felt disturbingly worse. Even if every millisecond languishing in that emptiness had seemed to be draining my very humanity, it was preferable to this. It was as though I no longer mattered. No, it was more soul-destroying; it was as though I ceased to exist. I think I could have handled being despised or spurned but this had me reeling. I was no longer a speck of dust. I was nothing.

Ironically, any hope of peace was further shattered by continually worrying over whether at any moment I would cease to be nothing. What if they suddenly discern my presence? Or what if they already know I’m here, and see me as trespassing lowlife to be dealt with as soon as they complete their conversation?

Were you to accuse me of taking conflicting emotions to new heights of insanity, I could scrounge embarrassingly little ammunition with which to defend myself.

Perhaps if I focused on what they were saying, I could distract myself from having to deal with the baffling muddle of emotions writhing inside of me.

“Earth! What’s so special about that tiny speck . . .” There seemed hurt and the slightest tinge of disgust in Zyra’s voice.

At least they’ve heard of earth.

As this giant spoke, my curiosity began to rise. There was something peculiar about their lip movements. In my effort to pick up their every word, I was trying – as much as I dare even look at these beings – to focus on their lips, but it was not helping my comprehension.

“Come now, Zyra, you –”

Suddenly there was a commotion. I looked around and hundreds, then thousands, of phenomenal lifeforms came pouring in. Where they came from, I had no idea. They had not been present a moment ago and there was nowhere for them to hide. This place had not even a ceiling.

Though I could not imagine any genetic similarity to humans, each new arrival was roughly humanoid in appearance and, by my quick assessment and untrained eye, they all seemed the same species as Chebon and Zyra. Each looked not just otherworldly, but terrifyingly supernormal. As time wore on I tuned in to minor variations between them in appearance and size. Each, however, in his unique way, looked stunningly majestic. Everything about them made words like dignified, stately, elegant, sophisticated and regal hide in shame of their inadequacy.

Should I be assigning them the male gender? They were certainly flat chested. And their physique left me quaking in the belief they would pulverize my bones with an innocent handshake. Even extending beyond the purely physical, they oozed strength and confidence. I’m almost inclined to say everything about them seemed formidable and domineering. And yet something about them makes me uncomfortable about applying the male pronoun. I couldn’t identify it precisely. There was a sort of softness – a slight aura of femininity – and physical beauty about them. They seemed to epitomize the best of both sexes and yet in another sense they seemed genderless. If calling any of these beings ‘he’ does not feel quite right, to refer to such a regal humanoid as ‘it’ would seem even farther off track.

As they came flooding in, my eyes absorbed so many never-before-encountered sights that to attempt an adequate description would take far too many pages. I will curtail myself rather than risk boring you in a vain effort to force words to do what only sight could achieve.

Everything about these mysterious lifeforms was fascinating. As individuals they were amazing, but as a group they were even more intriguing. For instance, it slowly dawned that although they all had what could be called white hair, there were slight differences in color such that I never noticed two with identical hair color. The hair of one had a slight pinkish tinge, another was slightly bluish, another slightly golden, and so on. And although I noticed dozens with, for example, a bluish tinge to their white hair, each was a slightly different shade of blue. I think it was the subtlety of the variation that particularly struck me. There was nothing gaudy. Every aspect of their appearance had such an aura of sophistication as to make everything human seem crude.

They seemed to radiate light. I cannot entirely dismiss the possibility that it was simply light bouncing off their shiny skin but my earlier guess that it was coming from within them still felt right. Whatever the cause, they were so dazzling that despite my natural inclination to stare wide-eyed in astonishment, I found myself snatching hasty glimpses of them and then looking elsewhere.

“It’s happened!” shouted several of the newcomers, as more continued to burst into this world from nowhere. In a moment of foolishness I unthinkingly jumped a few inches above the floor to try to see how far back the throng stretched. Thankfully, my rash action attracted no attention. I continued feeling not merely an inferior species but a nonentity. As unsettling as that was, it seemed that in the presence of these beings there must be a hundred worse scenarios than ceasing to exist.

My jump confirmed that there must have been hundreds of thousands by now and still more kept pouring in. They all seemed inexplicably jubilant. They were by no means shoulder to shoulder but even at this density if they were to fill this vast area . . . I had no time to work out the math but the numbers would be astronomical.

In my attempt to see where they were all coming from I again tried to comprehend my surroundings. The entire sky – I guess that’s what I should call it – was indescribable. It would be oversimplification to say that from horizon to horizon it looked like a gigantic rainbow. It was slowly but continually moving and changing in intriguing ways. The floor was so magnificent that I felt I could spend eternity exploring it and keep finding new treasures.

The haunting emptiness of this place lifted as I slowly began a lengthy recovery from the shock of everything being so alien and the place filled with exuberant beings. To my bewilderment, it now not only seemed regal, there was a cozy, intimate feel about it.

“Yeeaaaaah!” shouted Zyra, jumping high – and I mean high – in the air. I wondered if the astounding height he achieved was a function of the gravity in this place but I was later to discover that my aerobatics were as unimpressive here as they had been on earth.

“Glory!” said Chebon. Everyone, it seemed, was clapping, cheering, jumping, dancing, or emitting a peculiar noise.

“Glory”? Is that a religious term? I was taken aback. A sudden brainstorm threatened to take down every power line in my brain. These extraterrestrials couldn’t be angels, could they? What if I’m in heaven?

I berated myself. When I get a brainwave it usually means I have waved goodbye to my brain. What I was seeing was disturbingly different from any conceptions of angels or heaven I have ever encountered.

Lateral thinking is claimed to sometimes prove productive, so I tried to be kind to the right-side of my brain by congratulating the poor thing for a highly creative interpretation. Deciding to be preemptive, I gently suggested to the weird side of my brain there was no need to overexert itself on any theories about fairies, goblins or gods. Sanity returned and I dismissed the wild notion.

On a positive note, I’m bursting to tell you about their astonishing clothing, but I dare not. It enhanced their beauty and dignity. Frankly, I’m scared to say more. I’ll risk revealing more later. Then you’ll understand my reticence.

“At last! After thirty long earth-years!” shouted a jubilant humanoid.

What’s he talking about? The more I looked at each speaker’s lips the more puzzled I became.

“It’s a new era!” proclaimed another.

At that, the entire throng burst into a thunderous roar that seemed many times louder than anything I have ever heard and yet, instead of hurting my ears, the sound ripped through my body, suggesting that much of the roar was at a very low pitch, perhaps even below my audible range. Whatever the explanation, as it thundered through my body, the effect was remarkable. It was as though there was so much energy in the sound that it energized my entire physical being. But beyond that, it generated within me an excitement unlike anything I have ever experienced. The throng by now had grown so vast as to seem endless. I could find no vantage point high enough to see an end to it. For all I knew there could have been billions there.

Somewhere amid all of this, it hit me even more that what had once seemed a dreadful emptiness now seemed not only regal and palatial but warm and vibrant. What a transformation the presence of these beings had created! While puzzling over this, the words ‘living architecture’ surfaced in my mind. I then recalled ancient references to people as living stones and leaders as pillars, but any relevance eluded me.

When the roar finally subsided, another of these gigantic beings spoke a few words. My mind, however, instead of concentrating on what was being said, was like a bull terrier with a bone, refusing to let go of a much less significant puzzle. The words I was hearing did not correspond to the movements of the speakers’ lips. Was I somehow listening to a translation? A problem with this hypothesis was each voice was unique and sounded as if it were coming from the direction of each person speaking. I began listening intently while each spoke, wondering if I could hear any foreign language in the background. I could detect nothing but English. My mind continued to writhe with countless questions.

“What an achievement!” declared the first alien, his lips continuing for two or three syllables after the sound had ceased. In a flash of stupidity, I touched my ears to check whether earphones had somehow appeared over my ears. Of course, they had not. I wondered if I were in some kind of sound shell. Come on! I scolded myself, Concentrate on what they are saying! Surely their conversation would give me more clues than my idle speculations.

Something whooshed skyward and then, as it were, silently exploded. I barely noticed it until what looked vaguely like highly colorful sparklers rained down. Whenever a ‘sparkler’ landed on members of the throng, their responses seemed to indicate immense enjoyment.

Then a ‘sparkler’ touched me. The impact was staggering. For a split-second, rapturous euphoria threatened total sensory overload. This has to be heaven! Please do not ask me how I leapt to this conclusion. The sensations were so stupendous that my mind apparently soared heavenward, leaving sanity way behind. My madness continued, At last, after years of faithfully serving God, I’m going to sample some of my hard-earned heavenly reward. This is going to be astounding!

I was readying myself to revel in otherworldly glories, when the most sickening blow hit my stomach. To my horror, the blow came with such devastating force that I was hurled like a football being kicked out of a stadium. I found myself hurtling out of the place with such giddying speed that the throng streaked below me in a rapidly shrinking blur. Mind-ripping terror tore through me in ever-escalating shockwaves. The thumping time-bomb in my chest was set to explode.

I blacked out.


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