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Dave Bothwell's story Faith placed second in the recent UK Transatlantic Critique Club literary competition. --egh
by Dave Bothwell

"Mr. Cabanca? It's me, Alun. Yes. Yes, she died about an hour ago. Yes, very peacefully, no pain. Yes, it's here. Yes, definitely. O.K., yes, O.K.. I'll see you soon, then. O.K., yes. O.K. Goodbye."

Alun laid the mobile phone down and lit a cigarette. He drew deeply, filling his lungs with cool smoke. He hadn't smoked for seven years and now he regretted having denied himself this pleasure for so long. Now he knew it didn't matter.

A light breeze whispered around the balcony and he blew smoke out to watch it being whipped away by the wind. The suggestion of a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. Everything seemed amazing tonight, even the movement of air.

The lights of the city sparkled at him through the balcony railings so he got up and went over to look at them. The house stood high on a hillside overlooking the city sprawling across the vast plain below. The man-made stars stretched to the horizon, merging in the distance into a glowing ocean of light.

Alun had often stood here looking at that spectacular panorama without ever really seeing it. Now he saw it. And the natural stars overhead, paltry in number by comparison with the city's but as he looked at them, again really seeing them for the first time, they were even more awe-inspiring.

Taking a final draw on his cigarette he turned back towards the house, the house where the body of Mrs. Eliza Rendolin was slowly cooling to room temperature.

Coming in the through the balcony doors he made his way across the room, no easy feat because it was a veritable Frankenstein's laboratory. Hulking boxes of equipment crowded around the walls and the floor was strewn with snaking cables covering almost every inch of space. All around the room tiny lights blinked, small screens flickered, needles wavered within their dials, all as if keeping rhythm to the practically inaudible hum of machinery, an insistent throb that was almost felt through the floor rather than heard.

Alun sat at his work station and pressed a few keys on the computer keyboard. In the centre of a table to his left a large TV monitor came to life as a picture melted across its' screen. He swivelled his chair around to look at the TV picture and his heart skipped a beat. It was still there.

He stayed like that, staring in breathless astonishment at the TV monitor for what felt like an instant but may have been hours for all he knew.

"Alun?" A voice snapped him out of his reverie.

"Hello, yes," he jumped up from his chair, "Mr. Cabanca. Here I am."

The thick stocky form of Irwin Cabanca was clearly visible by the balcony door but there was someone else with him. Alun glanced at the TV monitor then typed at the keyboard and the TV screen went blank.

He picked his way across the room to the two waiting men.

"Alun," Cabanca said cheerfully, "I don't think you know my brother, Steven. Steven, this is the brilliant young man I was telling you about, Alun Stanslev."

"Pleased to meet you, Alun," said Steven Cabanca and held out his hand.

Alun reached out and shook his hand absently, "you too, sir," he said staring at the clerical collar around the others' neck.

"My brother is a priest," Irwin said unnecessarily.

"I see that," Alun nodded, "er, is your brother interested in the work we're doing here, Mr. Cabanca?"

Irwin smiled, "well, I guess he doesn't actually know what it is we're doing here, Alun, I didn't really tell him too much."

"No," Steven looked at his brother, "nothing at all in fact, just bullied me into his big limousine and said there was something I had to see. Maybe you can throw some light on this big secret Alun?"

"I dunno," Alun frowned, "I'm not sure you're really going to, er......"

"Nonsense" Irwin put his hand on his brothers back and gently ushered him towards the cramped centre of the room, "come on Alun show him, show him."

As they crossed the jumble of obstacles in single file Alun looked back over his shoulder, "Mr. Cabanca? Irwin, that is, are you sure about this? I mean, with your brother being a priest and all, you know?"

Irwin Cabanca nodded reassuringly and waved Alun onwards.

Steven Cabanca's eyebrows arched, "what's going on here, Irwin? I'm getting very nervous about this."

"Oh, only the most important event in the history of the world," Irwin said, "and I mean like since the Creation. What we've achieved here will change the lives of every man, woman and child alive today and for ever more."

"What did you do?" Steven glanced at him, "find a cure for the common cold?"

Irwin smiled and ushered him on. Alun sat down, hands poised over the key board,

"You sure about this, Mr. Cabanca?" Irwin nodded and Alun's fingers tapped a couple of times. He indicated the TV monitor with a nod of his head and they all turned to watch as the screen came to life.

It was a room. Right in the centre of the picture was a bed. Lying on the bed was a figure, an old woman. And not much else at first glance. There was a bedside cabinet, a wardrobe against the back wall and not much else.

Steven shrugged, "and I'm looking at..........?"

Alun coughed, "this," and he put his finger on the screen just above the old woman.

"Christ, yes," Irwin gasped, "there it is. I didn't see it, but there it is."

"What?" His brother squinted for a moment, then leaned a little closer to the TV screen, "what is that?"

There was a trail of smoke or a pale smudging of the picture or a little bit of light moving just above the old woman. It was so slight, so indistinct, you really had to look hard to see it but it was there. A pearly wisp of vapour, it seemed to stretch out, then curve over and roll around on itself then twist along its' length then stretch again, as if dancing to some unheard, inhuman music.

Steven Cabanca straightened suddenly, "what in God's name is that, Irwin?"

Irwin was nodding emphatically, "it's a Soul, Steven, a human Soul. Yes, that's right, proof of life after death, proof of an immortal spirit. I told you this was something big, didn't I? This is as big as it gets, right?"

Steven looked into his brother's face for a long moment, "no. No, it isn't. I don't know what that thing is but it isn't a Soul. It can't be."

He spun around towards Alun, "you. This is your doing, isn't it? He's tricked you Irwin. He's taken your money and showed you a camera trick, haven't you? My God, Irwin, how could you be so stupid to fall for something like this?"

"It's no camera trick," Alun snapped, "that is a human Soul. I haven't tricked anyone."

"Well, of course you have," Steven gestured at the TV, "what does that prove? I've seen thirty feet high dinosaurs walking down Fifth Avenue on the TV, it doesn't make it real. It was a camera trick, like this."

"Show him the door," Irwin hissed, "Alun, show him the door."

"The door?" Steven and Alun said in unison.

"Ah," Alun got up, "the door. Follow me, this'll prove it's no camera trick."

"What door?" Steven muttered as they began their short trek across the room's obstacle race.

"Well," Alun said over his shoulder, "when we set up the experiment in this house we had to make a few changes. What used to be the main entrance hall is now the crossover point between this, our world, and the artificial bubble of hyper-space we've created. The room that Mrs. Rendolin is in no longer exists in our universe. I shunted it into an adjacent dimension, a hyper-space if you like, that I fabricated."

"What you're about to see," Alun led the two brothers into the hallway, " is the exact point at which the two dimensions meet."

The hall looked perfectly normal. There was the outside door and half a dozen doors leading off from the entranceway, "the doors on this side of the hall are in normal space and lead to the control room, where we've just come from, and my bathroom and living room. The doors on the other side of the hall all lead nowhere, because they are at the junction of this universe and my artificial universe."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Steven growled, "and I don't much care. I still think you're a charlatan and you've been taking money off my brother under false pretenses."

Alun scratched his nose then went and opened one of the doors on the opposite side of the hall.

There was a gasp of amazement or perhaps horror from Steven Cabanca.

The door opened as doors do but everything from then on made no sense to the human eye. The two door posts which had clearly been a doors width apart a moment before were now standing side by side. The crossbeam was still a metre wide but now that crossbeam sat between jambs that were, perhaps, 15 centimetres in total width. But the crossbar didn't extend beyond the width of the jambs. There was no bending or warping, the posts all looked straight and solid but they fitted together in a way that made no sense.

Steven rubbed his eyes and looked again. He looked at the crossbar again. He ran his vision along it's full length, he was certain that it was a metre long. He looked at the two door-posts, two perfectly normally door-posts they seemed to be except they were stuck together with not a millimetre between them. And yet a metre long beam sat perfectly between them, fitting perfectly a space less than a sixth of its length.

Alun pushed the door slowly closed and Steven watched in astonishment as it fitted into the non existent space between the door posts.

"You see," Alun began, "what's happened..."

"Shut up," Steven snapped, "I don't give a damn for your scientific explanations of what's going on here, so just shut up."

"Steven," Irwin said a little shakily, "don't you see what Alun has achieved here? He's provided proof of the existence of life after death. That spirit you saw was real, it was no camera trick, you must realise that now, after seeing the Door. You have proof now."

"Proof?" Steven swung around to face his brother, "what do I need proof for, Irwin? I have Faith. Proof is the last thing I need. Proof is exactly what I or anyone else doesn't need."

"What do you mean?" Irwin gave a nervous laugh, "proof is precisely what people have always wanted, to know that there was more than just this life..."

"You don't get it, Irwin," Steven snapped, "this is wrong. Proof goes against everything religion stands for. If you have proof freedom of choice is removed. People will obey the Ten Commandments, but they'll obey them because they know there's a day of reckoning coming, not because they chose to."

Irwin laughed his nervous laugh again, "does that matter? If we create a better world surely that's worthwhile?"

Steven shook his head, "you're missing the point. You may well end up with a better world, a perfect world even, but it wont be the way the world is meant to be."

"All this," he waved a hand around the hall, "is wrong. There is something fundamentally wrong with what you've done here. It is impossible for you to have captured a human Soul, to prove the existence of the afterlife, it just is not possible."

"But we've done it," Alun said, "how can you say it's impossible?"

Steven shook his head, "it just is. Proving the existence of an afterlife is like, like, saying this universe is redundant. If we have proof of life after death why bother struggling on in this life? Why bother putting up with the pain and the suffering and the struggle to get on in this world when you know there's another one waiting? If this is genuine then something has gone very, very wrong with the world."

"Whatever, " Steven pulled his coat a little tighter,

"Irwin, could you have your driver run me back to my house, I've seen enough of this. I don't want to stick around here any longer."

"Steven," Irwin had a pleading tone to his voice, "please, I thought you would be excited by this, pleased. I thought you would understand."

"Understand?" Steven turned away, "I'm not sure I understand anything anymore. If you really want to do something to please me let that woman's spirit go to it's rightful place. It must be suffering, separated from it's loved ones."

"Um," Irwin looked at Alun.

"It's OK, Mr. Cabanca," Alun nodded, "I can always repeat the experiment. Go with your brother. I'll see to things here."

As Irwin Cabanca chased his brother out through the patio doors Alun returned to his keyboard. He was surprised to find his hands shaking as he began typing. He found he was holding his breath as he turned once more to the TV screen. A final key was pressed and the smoky wisp was gone from the picture.

He sat there looking at the screen and thought about what the priest had said. Scary stuff. Steven Cabanca's reaction had shook him up but not the way he might have expected. He knew a priest or any religious man would have been upset by what they were doing here but the things he had said had struck a chord in Alun.

He was suddenly scared and went out onto the balcony again, lit a cigarette and resumed his star watching. It took a few moments for what he saw to register but when it did the fear left him. Completely.

He sat smoking and watching until Irwin Cabanca re-appeared.

"Well, he's gone," Irwin slumped into the chair opposite, "I just couldn't get him to calm down, gone completely ballistic about this. I do not know what's got into him, I really don't. I thought he'd be pleased."

"He'll be OK," Alun smiled, "we'll all be OK. He's got a lot of work to do and I guess he'll have about six days to do it. It took six days to create the universe, seems reasonable to suppose it'll take about the same to dismantle it."

Irwin frowned at the young man, "what are you talking about? Don't tell me his rambling has got to you, Alun, I really don't need that."

"But he's right, Irwin," Alun shrugged, "you must see that? I don't know if what we did precipitated the end of the world or if the end of the world made it possible for us to see the spirit but your brother is right. By proving the existence of an afterlife we've rendered this universe redundant, it no longer serves the purpose it was created for."

"For Heaven's sake," Irwin rubbed his eyes, "you've both gone completely off your heads. You need a holiday, Alun, a long holiday. I'll get someone else to finish the work."

"No need, Mr. Cabanca," Alun blew smoke into the night air, "everyone's going to know about the afterlife soon enough."

"Really," Irwin said flatly, "and why would that be?"

Alun pointed skywards with his cigarette, "the stars."

Irwin Cabanca looked at the young man for a moment then, disinterestedly, he looked heavenwards. At first all he saw were the stars, pin pricks of light, never changing, never moving, never doing much of anything.

His eyes widened and his mouth dropped open as he saw what Alun was speaking about. First one, then another, then another. He kept watching, sure he was mistaken, that the answer would come to him, but no. No question, no doubt about it. One after another the stars, the eternal, infinite stars were blinking out of existence.

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