a story of the riverworld
by Dennis E. Power

Helen was never certain if sight or sound came to her first.

Upon reflection she guessed it had been sound although she was never consciously aware of the fact. She could have heard heartbeats and the River's passage but in her sleep had probably confused them with the only sounds she had heard for most of her life that of her blood passing through her ear drums and the various vibrations which had tickled her dead ear nerves.

Helen remembered dreaming about lying naked on a bed of wet dewy grass. One of the few sensual pleasures she had experienced in her life. She had only done this once or twice but had dreamed about it often. In her dream she had rolled over. The sensation of grass still remained only now it was sticking irritably into her ear and cheek.

Feeling the sun on her face she opened her eyes.

An explosion of color greeted them. Great mixtures of colors for which she knew the names but did not know the labels swam in a great throbbing, jumbled mass before her.

Helen screamed in shock, fright and ecstasy. She screamed again having heard herself scream.

As if her scream were a signal thousands of other voices began screaming. An explosion of sound which she heard but could not comprehend.

Helen looked about her in glorious wonderment. Gradually the colors began to take on shapes for which she also knew the words but had only grasped at the meanings. She had literally grasped at objects to form mental pictures them. The story of the three Blind Men trying to comprehend an elephant by merely touching parts of it, held especial meaning for her. This is how she had viewed the world for eighty-eight years. She had only a vague idea of what an elephant looked like although she had once ran her hands over a miniature of one.

Helen was fortunate in that she had been sighted if only for a fleeting time. before a lifetime of darkness. She was able to put names to shapes almost immediately .Entranced she stared at the sky, staring directly at the bright ball of light in the sky she knew was the sun. Light filled her vision, so much light that it became all she could see. When she took her eyes away from the sun, she could see nothing but bright light. Was this some cruel trick. Give her sight only to be blinded by the light?

She nearly panicked as a superstitious dread filled her. Perhaps that had been God and she had been blinded for daring to gaze at his face.

Gradually however the brightness faded and she was able to make out shapes again. She experimented with this once more and realized that it was a phenomenon of the bright light.

Gazing about with wonder she saw hundreds of people all lying about six feet apart from one another. They were all naked and hairless. A quick feel ascertained she had no hair either.

Was this Heaven's trade off. Sight and hearing for her hair? It was one she was glad to pay. She then remembered dying. Was this Heaven or her parent's concept of Purgatory?

She noticed a strap around her wrist. It felt like some type of plastic. It was attached to some metal artifact. Feeling it, her mental image of a cylinder game to mind.

People were starting to stir. A cacophony of sound greeted her ears. She could not understand one word anyone was saying. The sounds had no meaning to her. She was fluent in seven languages, yet had never heard one spoken so in essence they were all foreign to her.

For some reason she thought this hysterically funny and laughed uncontrollably. She laughed so hard her belly ached. She rolled into a ball to pull herself together. Helen sat straight up with a shock.

It had been very easy to sit up. She ran a hand over her face. Her face was smooth and firm. Quickly she ran her hands over her body, feeling the skin and muscle tone. Her body was once more youthful. Another prerogative from God?

She looked more closely at the other people. They all seemed to be youthful, at least she saw no one with wrinkled flesh. She did see a few children or what she assumed were children. Most were crying. She stood up and walked over to one carrying that object with her.

Helen put her hand on a child's shoulder.

"Don't cry little one, God will take care of us." she said. Her voice came out in an unintelligible croak. Is this what she sounded like? No wonder she needed an interpreter when she gave a public speech.

Frightened by her voice the child ran screaming away. Lost in thought, Helen did not follow.

Unintelligible speech sounded loudly behind her. Helen turned to face the person. It was a pale skinned man with light eyes. He spoke directly and loudly at her. She shrugged not understanding.

The man's eyes narrowed and he began speaking again. Helen could not understand.

"I am sorry I do not understand your tongue. Do you speak English?" Helen asked in her croaking, high pitched voice.

The pale man's skin turned a darker color and her raised his fist as if to strike her.

Helen reacted in fright and swung the metal object at the man. She hit him in the jaw and knocked him down. He lay unmoving, Screaming, she bolted. She ran across the grass which was a very bright color. She assumed it was green since Teacher had told her grass was green.

Helen ran towards a body of water. This was one substance she was not afraid to label. Water was her friend. It had been the only word she had retained when her sight and hearing had been stripped from her as a child. She saw that there was another expanse of grass on the other side of the water. This sloped up and into mountains or hills. She was not certain which word applied since she had never seen a mountain or a hill for that matter.

Hundreds of people were on that side as well. Vegetation of some sort began some distance from the grassy expanse on both sides of the river.

Helen reached the water's edge. The grass sloped directly into the water. The water was very clear and she could see small creatures swimming about in it.

Near the waters edge on both sides of the waters there were very large strangely shaped rocks or sculptures which seemed placed at specific intervals. There was one of the tall objects next to the river's edge. Helen felt it. It was some kind of carved stone. She stood in the shadow of the stone and gazed at the water.

Helen saw the misty form of another bald woman staring back at her. The woman had pale eyes, a pointy nose and . . .she moved as Helen did.

Helen began sobbing uncontrollably as she realized that she was seeing her reflection. She gazed at herself for a long time, memorizing every detail. Having no conception of the aesthetics of physical beauty she did not know how she stacked up in the looks department, although she had always been told she was a handsome woman.

Helen forced herself to stand up from the water's edge. Another person walked up to her. This was a young woman with very dark skin. Helen wondered if this was a Negro. The young woman began to speak slowly. Helen was not able to understand the sounds. The speaker tried in what appeared to be a few different languages. Helen was able to discern different emphasis in sounds.

Helen felt another laughing fit coming on. Here she was in Heaven or Hell given the gift of sight and hearing and not being understood by the other inhabitants.

The other woman gave up with a what Helen knew was a disappointed look.

Helen felt tears sting her eyes. "I wish I spoke your language." She began walking away when the young woman ran in front of Helen waving her hand. Helen stopped. The young woman began making a variety of motions with her hands. After a moment Helen realized this was some form of sign language but again she did not understand it.

Sadly she shrugged.

Not giving up the young woman began to form motions with her hands which seemed familiar. Insight suddenly hit Helen. She grabbed the young lady's hand.

She sobbed with joy when she understood the motions in this young lady's fingers.

The lady's fingers said, "Can you read lips?"

"Until a few moments ago, I could not see your lips. I was blind as well as deaf. I can hear now but do not understand. Do you speak English?"

The young lady laughed. Her fingers said, "I was speaking English. I recognized your voice as a hearing impaired person's"

Helen suddenly understood. She had the knowledge of English, French, German, Latin, Italian and other languages in her head but she had never heard them spoken. She would have to learn as a child would, had that child had access to a dictionary in his mind.

"I can hear and see now but I will have to learn to attach sight and sound to voice. I know the names in my head but the sounds and exact labels are disconnected. The easiest way for me to learn would be to talk to myself and hear the words I have in my head. Please tell me your name."

"Monica Adams." the young lady said moving her fingers and saying it at the same time.

"Monica Adams" Helen repeated.

Monica told Helen to speak more slowly. She kept repeating her name until Helen had learned the intonations.

Helen said, "My name is also Adams, in the middle anyway. Helen Adams"

Monica Adams jerked her hands away from Helen and stared at her. Noting the panicked and hurt look in Helen's eyes she grabbed Helen's hand again

"Are you Helen Adams Keller?" Monica asked signing and asking aloud at the same time.

Helen nodded.

Monica shrieked and threw her arms around Helen hugging her tight. She screamed something unintelligible in her ears. Helen hugged back.

Monica fingered. "I said, this must be Heaven because it is a miracle meeting you here with restored sight and hearing. God is merciful and you must be one of his angels."

Helen laughed heartily. "I am not an angel not even a Saint."

Monica and Helen sat by the stone for hours. Helen learned rapidly to associate words with sounds and with Monica's help began to modulate her voice so that it sounded as it would have had she not been deaf for most of her life. It would take much practice.

Monica began to help Helen associate objects with her vision and memory pictures. The colors were the first things which Helen wanted to learn. Monica was very helpful until she described her skin color which she called Black and white. She also called her eyes brown but they were about the same color. Helen pointed this out.

Monica laughed. "I guess you are right. We called our skin color black and yours white although ours were in a variety of shades of brown and yours were in peach.

"Are you a Negro?"

Monica's face grew less animated. She looked angry.

"What does that matter?"

"It doesn't matter, I was just curious. Until today I was totally color blind." Helen said with a smile.

Monica laughed. "I guess I was on guard because as you gain command of your voice once more, a distinctive southern accent is emerging.

Helen laughed. "That is curious isn't it. Although I guess it is understandable since the last voices I heard had southern accents and what speech I did have probably had it."

"That's right you lost the power of hearing and sight at eighteen months."

"You know about that."

Monica smiled. You were my inspiration, Helen. When I was a little girl I saw the MIRACLE WORKER at school. Then I went to the school library and read MY LIFE. I taught myself Braille so I could write you a letter."

"How old were you?"


"I don't remember getting it."

"You died while it was in the mail".

Helen felt a chill run up her naked back at that simple statement. A sudden, startling thought occurred to her. Helen looked at Monica and then asked, "When did you die!"

"1983 or so I assume. I don't remember anything after that."

Helen was stunned that Monica had died so long after her. Perhaps this was the day of jubilee. "I has assumed that everyone here died at the same time as me. That this collection of humanity had been taken to Heaven at the same time as I did."

"I doubt that this is Heaven. Would we feel hunger in Heaven? I am starting to get hungry." Monica said flashing white teeth.

"There are fish in the stream, perhaps we are to catch them."

Helen and Monica moved away from the large stone which Monica said was mushroom shaped. Helen wondered what they were to catch the fish with.

The sun was at its highest point.

A thunderous roar shook the world. Monica and Helen felt a sudden surge of tremendous heat coming from the mushroom shaped stone. Screams and shouts sounded up and down the river. Spinning around they saw nothing unusual about the stone. A man jumped on the stone and walked around on it. At the top he pulled something out of one of the holes dotting the stone's surface. It was a cylinder like the one attached to his wrist.

The man tried opening it. Helen's sensitive nose immediately smelled cooked food. Grinning the man pulled out a hamburger. A brawny man ran up to the mushroom stone. He shouted and Helen was pleased she could understand the words. "Give me that you son of a bitch!" The brawny man jumped on the stone. The man already on the stone panicked and swung the cylinder on his wrist. He hit the brawny man in his chest and knocked him off the stone mushroom.

The brawny man fell awkwardly and hit the ground head first.

Helen heard the snap as bones broke. The brawny man lay with his neck at a right angle to his body. His eyes glazed over and his breathing ceased.

Helen agreed with Monica that this was not Heaven. There was no death in Heaven. Surely there would not be any violence either. This must indeed be a purgatory or some afterlife which no Christian had believed in. Helen smiled to herself, perhaps, she had accidentally been taken to the wrong Paradise.

People in the crowd surged towards the stones, hurrying to get the food in the cylinders in the top. The youth on the mushroom stone, wolfed down his hamburger in a few bites. He then jumped into the river. Wading out away from the crowds.

Monica pulled Helen through the surging crowd and headed for the small wooded section beyond the grassy plain. She thought after a while people would settle down.

It did not seem as though they would however, since there were several fights. People had already gone into the wooded areas and made weapons out of sticks and rocks. They were using these for protection and to attack those who had gotten the cylinders with the food in them.

Monica and Helen sat under an extremely large tree with black bark. It had six foot leaves which were green with scarlet veins. It was cool and restful in its shade. There was another mushroom shaped stone some distance from them deeper in the woodland. People had gathered about them and were engaged in fights.

Ignoring them took an effort but Monica and Helen managed. They worked on building Helen's vocabulary and her pronunciation of words. After a few hours the fighting had died down. People were starting to build huts out of bamboo and leaves. Helen and Monica joined them in this and were assisted in building a small lean-to hut themselves.

They put their cylinders in the side of the stone. Monica had named the cylinders lunchpails and the stones automats. People around them soon adopted the words. Most everyone spoke English but Helen still had trouble deciphering the sounds especially with dialects.

Around dusk the automats exploded with a flare of electrical blue flame.

People immediately rushed to claim their lunchpails. A few men and women armed with spears held back some others and grabbed as many of the lunchpails as they could carry. They ran off with them. They sat under a tree to enjoy their ill gotten provisions.

The thieves discovered to their dismay that they were unable to open any lunchpail but their own. No amount of pounding or prying would open the lids of the stolen lunchpails. The thieves discarded the lunchpails with disgusted throws in the general direction of the people from whom they had been stolen. The thieves left the crowd and went deeper into the wooded area. The people whose lunchpails had been stolen scurried up to claim them. Monica was one of these.

Helen's lunchpail had a large slice of pizza, toasted ravioli, a portion of lasagne and garlic bread, a five ounce glass of red wine. She had recognized all put the pizza by the smell. Another cup contained a glass of soda pop with ice cubes in them. Helen sipped it but it was a brand she had not tried before.

Also in the lunchpail were square metal object which reminded Helen of a Zippo lighter, a plastic bag with four cigars, twelve cigarettes, two of which were of a brown coloration.

Monica shook her head angrily and said "Weed!"

"Pardon me?"


Also in the lunchpail were a pair of scissors, a comb, some toilet paper, a lipstick and a stick of a blue chalky substance, a round ball of soap and a stick of chewing gum.

Monica's lunchpail contained Chicken chow mein, pork fried rice, crab rangoon and snow peas. She had hot tea and whiskey in her cups. Her sundry items were identical with Helen's except that instead of four cigars she received two and a briar pipe and small bag of tobacco.

Helen was about to throw her tobacco products away but Monica stopped her. Helen rebuked herself she hadn't even considered Monica might smoke. Helen considered it a disgusting habit and did not like being around it. It bothered her sense of smell.

Helen smiled to take the sting out of her next words. "If you simply must smoke, please don't do it near me. I cannot stand the smell of it."

Monica blinked then smiled.

"Its not for me. If I know some smokers, what they get won't be enough to last a day. So they might trade various items from their lunchpails for smokes.

"The same goes for spirits too." Helen agreed.

As Helen and Monica were finishing their meals. Two dark Negro men walked up to where they were sitting. They spoke fast and loudly in a dialect which Helen could not fathom. Monica replied in the same dialect. They men had seemed friendly at first but they became increasingly hostile in tone.

Helen stared in utter fascination as one of the young men's flaccid penis twitched. While he was staring at Monica and Helen it thickened, hardened and lengthened. Soon it had gone from the size of her index finger to two handspans. It jutted forward from his naked groin like a threatening spear.

She of course had read about the phenomenon of an erection but had never seen one. It filled her with disgust and sexual desire at the same time.

The man with the erection moved forward saying, "Ahrye we take wahwewan".

Although Helen was slightly aroused by the erection, she was frightened by it too. She was not about to let her first sexual experience be one of rape. Helen slammed her lunchpail into the man's testes with all her might.

He screamed and fell to the ground clutching his genitals.

Screaming Monica copied Helen's movements. This man however was not taken by surprise and the lunchpail hit his hip glancing off. He leapt on Monica. Helen slammed her lunchpail against his head twice in rapid succession until he slumped over. The man on the ground grabbed her leg and tried to pull her down. Helen slammed her grail on his hand. His fingers broke.

Helen and Monica hurried away from them. Monica ran back to the area where the bamboo grew. She grabbed two six foot lengths, handing one to Helen.

"If this is Purgatory or Hell, I am going to defend myself against attack. Never again!" Monica shouted angrily.

Helen and Monica went back to the small hut they had built. It was becoming quite chill, especially without any clothing. Using dried leaves and some wood they built a small fire outside their tent. Monica used a piece of stone to whittle her bamboo stick into a crude point. She stuck this in the fire until it was hardened. Helen followed suit.

Monica was thirsty but did not want to go to the river for a drink. Not with the evil men out there. Nor did she want to drink the spirits afraid that should someone try to attack them she would be too affected to hold them off.

She decided to try the gum to keep her saliva working and moisten her throat that way. She tore her stick of gum in half and handed Helen the other half, saying she did not want to waste it.

Helen stuck the half of stick of gum in her mouth and began chewing. They both sat staring at the fire. Helen was trying to make sense of the world she found herself in.

Why would God raise her from the dead, give a young vital body, restore her hearing and sight and yet take away her hair or not give her clothing cover her nakedness.

Why had evil men also been raised and why was there still death? Were these deaths permanent? Had the world ended and were the last days according to prophecy? Were these the thousand years in which the Saved and the Damned would war?

Were Momma and Poppa arisen and youthful once more. And was dear Annie here?

Helen began seeing images in the flame. The fire exploded in a ball and Helen was struck blind and deaf once more. She was floating in a silent void. Her olfactory and tactile senses immediately told her she had been transported to another time and place.

She found herself sitting beside Annie's death bed. She relived the agony of Annie's death, this time hearing Annie's dying words, hearing her last breath, feeling her dead hand grow cold in her grip.

Helen was alone, alone and lost in a dark void. She felt Annie's hand slip from her grasp as if it had faded like so much mist. Then she could not feel anything. She did not feel the air on her face. She could not feel any part of her body. Her hands and skin and everything had just melted away. Nor could she hear her heart beat or the sounds of the world.

Helen was alone in a void in which not one of her senses worked. There was only her mind trapped in a useless husk. Somehow Helen was aware that her body had ceased to function but her mind lived on. She screamed a soundless scream which she did not hear. She could not even feel the vibrations in her throat.

This was Helen's greatest fear, that her mind would be forever trapped in a darkness where she experienced no sensation at all. She panicked for moments swimming in the unending darkness.

Helen suddenly stopped thrashing wildly and forced herself to think! How could she be swimming if she was in a void or how would she be aware of her movement if her body was a dead husk. With the will power which had given her the impetus to seek out the world beyond her silent and dark inner void as a child, she forced calmness upon herself. With the same single minded determination which had forced her to learn speech when she could not hear a blessed sound, she concentrated on her senses one by one.

First her tactile sense. She could feel her body, the heart beating blood pumping tingle of circulation through skin wet dew on the skin, she could smell sweat, fire, foods, sexual desire, river water, fresh air. She tasted the sweet liquor of the chewing gum in her mouth. She spat it out and tasted the air. She could hear her heartbeat and the sounds of wind and of human activity. She heard her name being whispered and whispered in a strange manner which reminded her of the vibrations upon Teacher's lips when she said Helen's name.

"Helen, Oh Helen I love you." Soft wet lips pressed against Helen's. White light exploded before her eyes. It coalesced into Anne Sullivan's face or rather how Helen had always imagined Anne Sullivan's face had looked. It was so beautiful.

Annie's kiss became passionate. Helen felt a hands caressing her breasts and thighs. A hot sexual desire warmed Helen's loins. She almost gave into the compelling sensation before realizing that this was a temptation from Satan.

Helen shoved the false Annie away from her and ran screaming into the night. She ran into the woods tripping, falling, getting up again and running some more. She ran until she could run no more and fell asleep under a large tree.

Helen Keller awoke the next day hearing the thunder of the automat stones. The sun's bright light stung her eyes and she wept with joy. It had not all been a nightmare. Smiling, she suddenly remembered a tune her Mother had sung to her as a baby. She began singing it in a clear and to her ears a beautifully melodic voice.

Whatever would come her way now she could bear it, she had come Out of the Darkness, plunged into the Darkness of her soul and once again emerged whole. To some this afterlife might be hell but to her it was paradise, for she had found sight, sound and voice.

© 2000  Dennis Power