Among the Dead
James H. Connelly

The Path, December, 1888.

[I must write down here nothing of myself; but only that which is given me to write. Who thus commands me I see not, nor do I hear or know him. But these thoughts, and the words that clothe them, are his, not mine. They are formed in my brain, but not by me. I hold the pen - nothing more.]

"When they found me, in the morning, I was cold and still. 'He is dead!,' they said, as they put back the heavy silken curtains of my bed and let the chill grey light fall upon my face. 'He is dead!,' they said, 'past pain, and care, and sorrow. He is at rest. But, for the sake of those he leaves behind, it is not well that men should know how he died.' So the complaisant physician told the untruth, and the world believed it. But I, pulseless, breathless, lying there before them and hearing their speech, knew that the deed was my own. I had been weary of the strife of life; sad from that which had been; fearful of what was to come.

With ceremonious pomp, befitting one in my station among men, they buried me. Emblems of woe and symbols of mourning were all about me and piled upon my coffin. There was one who stood at my low-lying head and spake words of eulogy over me. They were mockeries. I, hearing them and conscious of the truth of what had been, knew my deep undeserving. Alas! for the frozen lips that could not gainsay his smooth flatteries.

Then deep-toned waves of solemn harmony awoke responsive trembling in the walls about and the high arch overhead, and even thrilled me where I lay in state that all might look their last upon me. Amid the many who thus gazed and cared naught were a few who loved me, whose tears dropped on my face as they bent to kiss my icy brow; and a passion of pity for their grief that I had brought upon them, and a vain longing to return to life that I might comfort them, came to me like a throb of pain.

Then they shut out the light from me and carried me away to my last resting place. And all the way, though I lay there in darkness, with unseeing eyes, deaf ears, and speechless lips, I saw the infinite loveliness of the dear living world I had abandoned, heard its myriad sounds of life blended into a choral of thanksgiving for the joy of mere existence, and, out of my remorseful yearning to again be part of it all, uttered a shriek of agony - heard and echoed only in my own soul.

Dully rumbled the earth falling upon my coffin; high in a mound above they piled it. Down where they had put me, all was still, and cool, and damp. When their work was done, they went away. Then, all was silence. The momentary pang of desire for life had passed, and I was resigned. Voluntarily I had died that I might sleep, at once and forever. But I could not sleep. Every sense was keenly awake. And now I knew that I would never sleep, that death is an eternal wakening. And that wakening, for me at least, was in the grave. A nameless horror, unspeakable and vast, overwhelmed me.

Lonesome and dark, at first, my surroundings seemed. But I grew accustomed to the obscurity, could in some measure penetrate it, and a consciousness grew upon me that I was not alone. Had I neighbors down there in the ground? Were others awake near me? If so, could I know of them, and in what forms might they appear to me? With appalling shapes my fancy filled the gloom that smothered me. Dimly I felt already that I was not as those by whom death had been unsought; that I un-bidden, had intruded upon them before my time had come to know them, and I feared them - as if I had still been alive.

But in much time they came no nearer to me, and were no more distinct than are vaguely-defined superior depths of shadow where all is shade. And I had nothing to do but lie still and think, always to think of myself, sometimes with pity, again with contempt, and often with rage, for I was very weary of being there and of thinking that I was so of my own will.

And all this while Nature was reclaiming from me that which belonged to her, - my form of clay. How hideous and loathsome it became to me! Yet I was bound in it, inseparable from it. With each fibre, in every tissue of the horrible mass that it became, my semi-material second self - my astral body - was inextricably interblended, and from it, as now I knew, could only be freed by its mouldering away and returning to the elements whence it had been drawn. Earth; air; water; each individually pure, yet how unspeakably revolting down there in the grave in their process of resolvement. And the demon Worm; resting not and sated never; who but the dead themselves can know what tortures he inflicts, to which all agony of living flesh is joy? Yet to all these dread abominations, their maddening defilement and their pain, the senses of my astral body, keener than those of men who live yet all ways like to theirs, thrilled with extremest consciousness. Oh! the unutterable misery, the loathing and the horror of that awful prison house.

With the slow progress of the changes thus upon me wrought, my concious second self by slow degrees gained freedom. Then I knew what was about me; penetrated with my sight the long, thick-peopled lines of houses of the dead, and knew my neighbors. And I saw that all graves were not fearsome prisons, hells, like mine. In some lay bodies turning back to earth, wherein no soul was pent. Souls whose brief earthly lives were all too short to know of evil purpose or of sin, and those who worthily had lived out their allotted days till, spent with kindly labor of good deeds, therein had left their earthly forms, - for them the eternal wakening was restful peace in realms of light. But those inhabiting there below, with me, were souls, like mine, impatient of their task of life. Not alone is he self-slayer who by violence upon himself abbreviates his earthly span. To the same fate attain the grasping souls who, by excess of toil for love of gain or satisfaction of ambition, and the sensual ones who, through abandonment to fleshly lusts and vices, will to the grave before their time. Such were my company.

Ah! what democracy there is in death! In that drear nether world, masks are unknown, efforts at pretence vain. Each naked stands, transparent to his fellow's gaze, each meriting the scorn of all and shunning each the other, self-reproach and vain regret in every one consuming thought of pity for his fellow's woe. Madness, that knows not, and despair, that is past caring, may not mercifully enter there. Man must be conscious, and not quite devoid of hope - even though that hope be but of some other kind of hell - , that he may suffer all the more. How long! Oh! Lord of Life, how long! until such hope springs up as can some comfort bring; until the end appears, remote but sure, when, through destruction total of the bonds of clay, deliverance shall be. To all, at length, that hope appears, and, as the years roll on, by progress slow is realized.

Up once again, when little more, if aught, than formless dust is left behind, the freed soul rises to the world of living men. So I passed, leaving one woe to learn another not less keen in anguish.

A weary time I yet remained within the narrow confines of the city of the dead, as if some potent spell still linked my soul unto the elements that had been mine; and all my days were filled with sights and sounds of human grief; and all my nights a myriad spectral forms, Remorse, and Sin, and Shame, and Fear - that had been human - , and the baleful bodiless things that hate men's souls, surrounded me. The dew upon the rank grass there seemed tears; the dreary moanings of the wind in the bare branches overhead were lamentations; and the moon's cold light, crossed by swift-moving clouds, did seem to shudder at our ghastly multitude.

Stronger and stronger on me grew desire to look again on those I loved in life, until at length my will sufficed to burst the bonds that held me near my grave, and I returned to them, - so plunging in another hell.

On them I saw descend, though far remote, the dire results of the rash deed that I had done, the curse that I had wrought; yet, in comparison, the atom to the Infinite is as my love and sympathy for them had been in life, to what it now was magnified. And herein lay my hell. Their perils and their griefs, cares and temptations, all to me were known, spread clear before me like an open scroll; and I could even read the fate awaiting them; behold the merciless hands - to them invisible - up-reaching from the abysms where souls are lost, to drag them down; mark their vain struggles to escape, and with unerring surety presage their defeat. And, all the while, my knowledge was no less of how they could be helped and saved, - yet I was powerless. Words framed by my immaterial lips made no vibration to their ears; the anguish in my eyes they saw not; thoughts that I strove to force upon their minds in passive sleep distorted were to idle dreams; and the malignant creatures of the air encircling 'round mocked at my impotence.

The end has come at last. Contrition, for rebellion past against the perfect wisdom of the Infinite Will, from Infinite Justice gains surcease of punishment, the severance of all earthly ties, and rest, and peace."

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