Nested by Wole Talabi

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NESTED

Wole Talabi

You die.

You awaken in a sterile, white room that looks like it has been painted in fifty shades of blank with a thousand different pigments of nothing. The vacuous starkness of it makes you uneasy, and you feel alien within yourself. You bring your hands up to your face and you see nothing. Or perhaps you see right through yourself. You are sure of nothing here. Not even that you are. Here.

A man walks in through a door that you are sure is not really there, wearing what appears to be a long, flowing robe made of pure light. His face is leathery and wrinkled. He is calm. He moves toward you slowly and without the unevenness of motion characteristic of footsteps; as though he is gliding along some invisible pre-selected path. There is a smile plastered on his face that refuses to decline as he tends toward you. You cannot tell how long it takes him to reach you but when he does, he stops right in front of you, barely a breath away, and tilts his head to the side silently. You do not like the silence and so you break it. You ask him if he is god and he asks you not to be silly.

He begins to talk to you. He confirms that you are dead and he tells you that your notions of an afterlife are meaningless abstractions conjured up by a sentient creation seeking meaning and purpose for its existence. You, he says, are the ghost in the human machine.

You find what is left of your mind addled and so you ask him what he means. He laughs. It is not a cruel or a haughty laugh but it makes what you think is your skin crawl and makes you feel small and puerile nevertheless. And then the thought of skin fills you with a mirth all of your own as you attempt to raise your hand again to your face and see nothing. You laugh with him briefly, the birth of your own mirth comes at the peak of his and somehow, both die together.

When both of you conclude your laughter, he explains to you what you are. He uses words that are only vaguely familiar to you – you recognize them as the technical jargon of a field of study with which you are unfamiliar – but you gather that he is telling you that he made you. You are his creation. You understand but you refuse to believe it even before it fully makes landfall on the shores of your brain.

You tell him what he has just told you is impossible and he asks you why. You cannot think of any good answer. He asks you what you thought would happen when you died. You tell him, ignoring his mild smile – the kind you remember your father used to have on his face when you tried to convince him of something just before telling you exactly why it could not be so. He tells you that it is not so.

You ask this white-bearded man with the coat of many spectra and the permanent smile about animals and plants and the other lifeforms that are spread across the planet. He tells you that you are unique. You are a change agent, a seeker. You and your kind. He tells you that he created you to help him find something. He is trying to understand where he came from.

All of a sudden, you realize that you no longer want to be in this place and so you ask him what happens next. He tells you that you have a choice. You can be deleted permanently or plugged back into the system, recycled into parts of another being he will create.

“The experience embedded in you from your previous run might be useful to the new one,” he says.

You think of dreams, instinct, deja-vu and past-lives but say nothing of them. You simply tell him to plug you back in.

He smiles and asks you why you are all afraid of the nothingness, why none of you ever chooses to be deleted permanently.

“Do you remember what came before your birth?” He asks.

“If there was nothing before, why do you all believe something must come after?” He inquires further.

You cannot respond and so you try to turn away from him but you cannot really do anything, here.

He smiles again, turns and glides out of the room through the door that is not there. The room begins to shrink and before long it is the size of you. There is an impossibly loud noise like an explosion made of other explosions. And then, all of a sudden, there is nothing. You are nothing.

Being nothing, you have no way of knowing that a few moments after he steps back into his own segment of existence, he suffers what his kind calls, roughly translated, a ‘core collapse’, not unlike what you would have called a heart attack.

He dies.

He awakens in a room that looks like it has been built with bricks of emptiness held together by the stuff vacuums are made of. There is an ethereal, fluffy quality to it that makes him feel like he is in a dream and the strangeness of it all makes him giddy. He tries to shut his three eyes but nothing happens. He cannot feel any sensation on his scales. He cannot adjust his balance with his tail. He can do nothing except be in that place and he is confounded by the nature of his being. There.

There is a sudden brightness like a projection from a faraway place and an image made of hazy numbers blossoms out of the centre of the light to constitute the head of a living being. The head is ovoid, scaled, has three eyes and is smiling. He asks the being before him if it is the supreme creator and it tells him not to be silly…

Food for Thought

The big idea (or question) with this story is: humanity is on a quest to understand how we came to be and a big part of that is our attempt to create ‘artificial’ life, hoping that this will reveal something to us. But what if our creator is also on a quest to discover where he came from by creating us and his creator also and so on and on. This sets up something like a mathematical nested logic loop. The story also touches on the nature of the afterlife. Why do we have such elaborate myths for the afterlife and none for the pre-life (life before we were born?). These are the questions that are raised.

About the Author

Wole Talabi is a Nigerian full-time engineer, part-time writer and some-time editor. He currently lives and works in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. His stories have appeared in Liquid Imagination, Omenana, The Kalahari Review, and a few other places.

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