I recall a whirling sensation, and an involuntary attempt at self-preservation, in which I threw my arms wildly about with a vain endeavor to clutch some form of solid body, which movement naturally ended by a tight clasping of my guide in my arms, and locked together we continued to speed down into the seven thousand miles of vacancy. Instinctively I murmured a prayer of supplication, and awaited the approaching hereafter, which, as I believed, would quickly witness the extinction of my unhappy life, the end of my material existence; but the moments (if time can be so divided when no sun marks the division) multiplied without bodily shock or physical pain of any description; I retained my consciousness.
"Open your eyes," said my guide, "you have no cause for fear."
I acquiesced in an incredulous, dazed manner.
"This unusual experience is sufficient to unnerve you, but you need have no fear, for you are not in corporal danger, and can relax your grasp on my person."
I cautiously obeyed him, misgivingly, and slowly loosened my hold, then gazed about to find that we were in a sea of light, and that only light was visible, that form of light which I have before said is an entity without source of radiation. In one direction, however, a great gray cloud hung suspended and gloomy, dark in the center, and shading therefrom in a circle, to disappear entirely at an angle of about forty-five degrees.
"This is the earth-shelf from which we sprung," said the guide; "it will soon disappear."
Wherever I glanced this radiant exhalation, a peaceful, luminous envelope, this rich, soft, beautiful white light appeared. The power of bodily motion I found still a factor in my frame, obedient, as before, to my will. I could move my limbs freely, and my intellect seemed to be intact. Finally I became impressed with the idea that I must be at perfect rest, but if so what could be the nature of the substance, or material, upon which I was resting so complacently? No; this could not be true. Then I thought: "I have been instantly killed by a painless shock, and my spirit is in heaven;" but my earthly body and coarse, ragged garments were palpable realities; the sense of touch, sight, and hearing surely were normal, and a consideration of these facts dispelled my first conception.
"Where are we now?"
"Moving into earth's central space."
"I comprehend that a rushing wind surrounds us which is not uncomfortable, but otherwise I experience no unusual sensation, and can not realize but that I am at rest."
"The sensation, as of a blowing wind is in consequence of our rapid motion, and results from the friction between our bodies and the quiescent, attenuated atmosphere which exists even here, but this atmosphere becomes less and less in amount until it will disappear altogether at a short distance below us. Soon we will be in a perfect calm, and although moving rapidly, to all appearances will be at absolute rest."
Naturally, perhaps, my mind attempted, as it so often had done, to urge objections to his statements, and at first it occurred to me that I did not experience the peculiar sinking away sensation in the chest that I remembered follows, on earth, the downward motion of a, person falling from a great height, or moving rapidly in a swing, and I questioned him on the absence of that phenomenon.
"The explanation is simple," he said; "on the surface of the earth a sudden motion, either upward or downward, disturbs the equilibrium of the organs of respiration, and of the heart, and interferes with the circulation of the blood. This produces a change in blood pressure within the brain, and the 'sinking' sensation in the chest, or the dizziness of the head of a person moving rapidly, or it may even result in unconsciousness, and complete suspension of respiration, effects which sometimes follow rapid movements, as in a person falling from a considerable height. Here circumstances are entirely, different. The heart is quiet, the lungs in a comatose condition, and the blood stagnant. Mental sensations, therefore, that result from a disturbed condition of these organs are wanting, and, although we are experiencing rapid motion, we are in the full possession of our physical selves, and maintain our mental faculties unimpaired."
Again I interposed an objection:
"If, as you say, we are really passing through an attenuated atmosphere with increasing velocity, according to the law that governs falling bodies that are acted upon by gravity which continually accelerates their motion, the friction between ourselves and the air will ultimately become so intense as to wear away our bodies."
"Upon the contrary," said he, "this attenuated atmosphere is decreasing in density more rapidly than our velocity increases, and before long it will have altogether disappeared. You can perceive that the wind, as you call it, is blowing less violently than formerly; soon it will entirely cease, as I have already predicted, and at that period, regardless of our motion, we will appear to be stationary."
Pondering over the final result of this strange experience I became again alarmed, for accepting the facts to be as he stated, such motion would ultimately carry us against the opposite crust of the earth, and without a doubt the shock would end our existence. I inquired about this, to me, self-evident fact, and he replied:
"Long before we reach the opposite crust of the earth, our motion will be arrested."
I had begun now to feel a self-confidence that is surprising as I recall that remarkable position in connection with my narrow experience in true science, and can say that instead of despondency, I really enjoyed an elated sensation, a curious exhilaration, a feeling of delight, which I have no words to describe. Life disturbances and mental worry seemed to have completely vanished, and it appeared as if, with mental perception lucid, I were under the influence of a powerful soporific; the cares of mortals had disappeared. After a while the wind ceased to blow, as my guide had predicted, and with the suspension of that factor, all that remained to remind me of earth phenomena had vanished. There was no motion of material, nothing to mar or disturb the most perfect peace imaginable; I was so exquisitely happy that I now actually feared some change might occur to interrupt that quiescent existence. It was as a deep, sweet sleep in which, with faculties alive, unconsciousness was self-conscious, peaceful, restful, blissful. I listlessly turned my eyes, searching space in all directions—to meet vacancy everywhere, absolute vacancy. I took from my pocket (into which I had hastily thrust it) the bar of iron, and released it; the metal remained motionless beside me.
"Traveling through this expanse with the rapidity of ourselves," said my guide.
I closed my eyes and endeavored to convince myself that I was dreaming—vainly, however. I opened my eyes, and endeavored to convince myself that I was moving, equally in vain. I became oblivious to everything save the delicious sensation of absolute rest that enveloped and pervaded my being.
"I am neither alive nor dead," I murmured; "neither asleep nor awake; neither moving nor at rest, and neither standing, reclining, nor sitting. If I exist I can not bring evidence to prove that fact, neither can I prove that I am dead."
"Can any man prove either of these premises?" said the guide.
"I have never questioned the matter," said I; "it is a self-evident fact."
"Know then," said he, "that existence is a theory, and that man is incapable of demonstrating that he has a being. All evidences of mortal life are only as the phantasms of hallucination. As a moment in dreamland may span a life of time, the dreamer altogether unconscious that it is a dream, so may life itself be a shadow, the vision of a distempered fancy, the illusion of a floating thought."
"Are pain, pleasure, and living, imaginary creations?" I asked facetiously.
"Is there a madman who does not imagine, as facts, what others agree upon as hallucinations peculiar to himself? Is it not impossible to distinguish between different gradations of illusions, and is it not, therefore, possible that even self-existence is an illusion? What evidence can any man produce to prove that his idea of life is not a madman's dream?"
"Proceed," I said.
"At another time, perhaps," he remarked; "we have reached the Inner Circle, the Sphere of Rest, the line of gravity, and now our bodies have no weight; at this point we begin to move with decreased speed, we will soon come to a quiescent condition, a state of rest, and then start back on our rebound."