Popular belief has it that the universe is comprised of atoms. In reality, the universe is actually made up of…
I wake up hard, cold sweat running rivulets down my clammy skin, from the type of apocalyptic nightmare that makes me thankful it was just a—
There’s a stranger standing at the foot of the bed!
I want to bolt, to leap out of bed and tackle the intruder, but I find myself constricted within the straitjacket of night-terror-soaked sheets. How long has he been standing there, watching us sleep? My children are next door! Did he go to their room first? If something’s happened to them—I want to say I’ll kill this person, it’s what I’m meant to feel, but honestly, I’ll never be able to forgive myself for being paralyzed in fear instead of being the protector my family needs me to be at this moment.
“Do not be alarmed,” the stranger says. His voice is the faintest whisper yet I can hear him perfectly clear because the silence in the bedroom is a level of quiet I have never experienced in all my days. “I realize my sudden appearance in your home has come as a surprise to you due to the fact that you and I have never met and I am obviously a ghost.”
This would explain the optical illusion of being able to see the chest of drawers against the far wall through his ephemeral body. Of all the questions buzzing in my hypnagogic brain, the one that bubbles to the surface is, “What do you want from us?” and my voice cracks in a manner that shatters any illusion of bravery.
I beam thoughts to my wife, trying to will her awake, hoping that she might be able to move, to collect the children and get them safely out of the house while I somehow distract this spirit. I even slide my hand beneath the duvet, slowly as not to draw attention, in order to nudge or pinch her awake…to no avail.
“Please know that I have no intention of haunting you or bringing any harm to you or your loved ones,” the ghost announces.
“Then why are you here?” I reply loud enough to wake my wife but not the children because I don’t want to risk them coming into the bedroom to inspect the commotion.
The transparent man smiles, “You may speak as loudly as you please. I have spread a calming essence over your wife and children so that they might rest soundly as you and I converse.”
I don’t know jack about ghost lore or sleep-inducing essences, but I don’t get the feeling the apparition is lying to me, so I ask, “What could we possibly have to talk about?”
“As I explain my situation, I ask that you refrain from pitying me and my circumstances for life is not a gift we keep but one we borrow and must one day return. Death is inevitable as you will one day learn.”
“Pity you? Pal, I don’t even know you!”
“Of course, where are my manners? The things one forgets once the embers of life have been snuffed. My name is Hamid Tahan and I am—pardon me, I was an Emirati merchant in Dubai.
“In the latter part of my short existence, I had been diagnosed with prostate and esophageal cancer. Sadly, it was discovered in its very late stage due to my laxity in caring for my health. My illness defied all forms of medicine and treatments and according to my physicians, I had only a few months to live.
“I am ashamed to admit that I had not lived a particularly good life. I never really cared for anyone, not even myself. All that mattered was my business. Though I was very rich, I was never generous and I tended to be hostile to those around me.
“But when it was far too late, I regretted it all. I discovered that there was more to life than the mere acquisition of money and I knew in my soul that if the universe in its infinite wisdom bestowed upon me a second chance I would live my life in a different, far better manner.
“As my mortal time drew to a close, I willed most of my properties and assets to my immediate and extended family members, as well as a few loyal friends and schools in the United Arab Emirates. I gave alms to charitable organizations across the globe, as I wanted this to be one of the last good deeds I did on earth.
“And I almost accomplished the task in its entirety but my health had deteriorated more rapidly than was originally estimated and I lost my battle with cancer before I could close out my final account. This is my reason for contacting you.”
“I don’t understand,” I say.
“I have studied you from the great beyond. I see that you are a good man, a kind and generous man even though you are struggling to keep your lovely wife and beautiful children comfortable in the face of the impending bankruptcy of your company. I can help you with this.”
“Help me? How?”
“I could reveal the location of my final, secret account to you, provide you with the codes and information to transfer the funds into your account. Trust me when I say it is more than enough money to pay off all your debt, provide for your children’s futures, and allow your family to live comfortably for many years to come. The only thing I ask in exchange for this life-changing abundance…”
“Ah, the catch,” I sigh. “There is always a catch.”
“…is your life,” Hamid Tahan continues.
“I have come to an arrangement with The Powers That Be that I can be reborn if I performed a random act of kindness on a complete and utter stranger and of all the several billion candidates on the planet, I choose you.
“The only drawback for you is that this gift requires a sacrifice. Now you must ask yourself if you love your family enough to die for them? I have seen what lies in store for you and your family and I could not in good conscience live with myself, pardon my turn of phrase, if I did not try to help prevent it.
“You might be thinking to yourself that this is some sort of hoax but if you take a deep breath, turn your gaze inward, and reflect on it for a moment you will feel the certainty of my offer because it has been classified as a Universal Truth, which cannot be forged because they originate from a source that has existed before humankind was even a concept.”
There’s no reason to believe this literal shade of a man, but in this instant, my fear shifts on its axis to awe because a sixth sense I never knew I possessed awakens and confirms his claim. I open my mouth, then close it. There are no words for this experience, this level of understanding, clarity, and certainty.
“You need not give your answer at this moment,” he states. “But I would advise you to decide before the week has concluded. The money will be of little use to your family beyond that point.”
“Wait! What’s going to happen to my family? If you know, you have to tell me!” I want to leap from the bed and take hold of the ghost and shake the answers from him, which is an irrational thought but it doesn’t matter because I’m still unable to move from this spot.
“I apologize that I am forbidden to reveal any more to you. Please think deeply on my offer and despite your decision, know that you and your family are in my prayers. May the universe be with you, sir,” the phantasmal being who was once Hamid Tahan says as he evaporates like the figments of a dream and is engulfed by the dark shadows of the room.
And as I watch the gentle rise and fall of my sleeping wife’s chest I am left to wonder if, despite my wedding vows and duties as a father and provider, I value my own life over the financial security of my family.