“What do you wager?” asked the man’s son. He stood near his father’s hospital bed and reached down to squeeze the man’s unresponsive hand.
“I’m as hopeful as you are,” answered the man’s brother as he turned silently and knelt to offer another prayer for the man’s recovery.
The man was roused by a question.
“What was your wager?” asked a voice.
The man looked around for his interrogator.
“What was your wager?” asked the voice again.
The man turned slowly and blinked at length against a white, hot light burning like the furnace of a star. He could feel cool, vaporous darkness beckon him from behind.
“What was your wager?” asked the voice again. Its owner was a mere silhouette against the brilliant light.
“Who are you? Where am I?” asked the man.
“I have no name, but if it will ease your mind call me ‘Pascal’. This is the place between darkness and light,” came the shadow’s reply.
“Pascal,” asked the man, “am I dead?”
“No, “ answered the shadow, “you are dying.”
Dying? Yes, dying, the man thought, his memories returning abruptly—a hospital bed, the machines and medical staff responsible for keeping him alive, and his family and friends gathered to offer hushed prayers for his recovery. Yes, dying, of cancer.
“What was your wager,” asked the voice again, insistent now.
“I’m not sure what you mean, Pascal,” replied the man.
“You have me at a disadvantage now because you know my name, but the house always wins,” the shadow warned and asked again, “What was your wager?”
At last a bell rang in the recesses of the man’s mind. Wager. Pascal. “Pascal’s wager?” he asked, unsure of himself.
“What was your wager?” asked the shadow again severely.
“I was God-fearing,” replied the man with evident relief.
“Which god? Which book? Which heaven? Which hell?” the shadow demanded.
“There is no God but Allah,” replied the man, confused by the question.
“No,” came the shadow’s reply.
The man reeled and the light burned brighter. Hotter. Nearer. Finally he conceded quietly, “God, then—Elohim, I mean.”
“No,” answered the shadow.
“Christ Jesus?” he pleaded.
“No,” replied the shadow.
The light seared the man and he blasphemed desperately, “Vishnu? Odin? Ra? I confess them all!”
“No, no, and no,” replied the shadow.
“Then who?” cried the man, “Which god? Which book? Which heaven? Which hell?”
The shadow was silent. Tendrils of fire reached out and drew the man closer to the inscrutable figure. At last he was face to face with the being through the surface of the white, hot light. He met the shadow’s gaze and his own reflection stared back at him.
“Which god? Which book? Which heaven? Which hell?” he cried, despairing.
There was silence, and before his thoughts winked out forever the man reflected that the answer was conspicuous by its absence. With incomprehensible speed the light enfolded the man in a final, inexorable embrace.