Luke Ganje - Writing Samples
With an inevitable and mechanical grace, the car sank into the water as waves lapped in a peaceful harmony against the glass panes of the windows. There was once a time only a few decades past when such a thing would have brought fear of death but the unwavering constitution of two small children in the backseat made it more than clear that those times had long since changed. Their breaths quickened, yes, and their hands were clasped in the sort of childish innocence that we all wish we'd never lost, but their eyes showed no fear. Instead they stared at each other with an obvious anticipation and though there were no words that needed saying, they spoke anyways as children are want to do.
"What would you do if the glass broke?" asked the boy, whose name was Billy though they would never mention names.
"I'd climb out the window." said the girl, who's name was Georgia. They were twins, the two of them, although not in the traditional sense as they looked nothing alike and Georgia always thought Billy was strange.
"But there'd be water pouring in." he pointed out in what he hoped was a superior way.
Georgia frowned, wondering if Billy was trying to be superior or obnoxious. Either way, she thought, he was succeeding. "I suppose. But the glass won't break and water won't poor in and we'll cross the river to be with Mom before you know it."
The boy tried to smile but didn't quite make it past a wince. "Do you think she'll be there?" he asked.
The girl stared out the window as a rogue tuna fish passed by. She thought it had an aimless way about its travel but that may've been simply due to the fact that it wasn't travelling the same direction as their car rail. She eventually decided she was 9 and not expected to know such things, anyway.
"Mom?" she asked.
"Dad said she would be."
The boy sighed and stared out his own window as he'd secretly always idolized his sister and it seemed like the rational thing to do. The inside of the car was pleasant in many ways with fine leathers that the televisions always swore were hand-stitched, after all. But while that may have meant something to some people, all Billy could think of were the poor people who had to stitch cushions while being underwater.
It must be wet, he thought.
"Dad's said a lot of things." he said. "Mom has, too."
She looked at him with a glint to her eyes that Billy thought may be tears.
"He promised." she said.
He started to say something before realizing he'd just be repeating himself.
Instead he settled for silence which was quite the statement considering he'd just eaten the chocolate bar he'd been saving in his backpack for a special occasion. His mother always said it made him unbearable and while he didn't know what that word might mean, he laid his head against the water-cooled window and hoped it was a good thing.
"Why is the world the way it is?" Georgia muttered, breaking a silence that she felt had gone on quite long enough.
"Mom's always fighting, Dad's always yelling...I keep waiting for something to change. For a day when I can be happy and smile and laugh."
"You laughed earlier today." Billy pointed out.
"It wasn't a happy laugh, though." she said, groaning when her brother's confused face prodded her on. "I laughed because I felt like I should. Not because I wanted to. Do you know what I mean?"
He started to say he didn't before remembering the day his mother asked if he was happy. She didn't know he'd heard the screaming and fighting the previous night through his bedroom wall. His father had left the next day and while he didn't know why, he knew he wouldn't be coming back. He wasn't happy and he'd cried himself to sleep that night and many nights since, but he could tell there was something in the way his mother asked the question that made it more important than it might have otherwise been.
Yes, Mom. He'd said. And she smiled and kissed him and told him that everything would be alright.
Billy rubbed at his eyes. "Yeah. I know what you mean."
"So...why can't the world change?" she continued. "Things get different all the time. Mom said next year we won't even have to drive anymore, that things will be easier and we'll have more time to be a family."
"I always liked driving with Mom." he said quietly.
"I did too." she echoed. "So why are we changing things that don't matter? Why can't we just change unhappiness?"
Billy looked outside the glass again, wondering how much time was left before the tracks pulled them to the surface once more. "Maybe because sometimes change is so pretty." he said as he watched the world of fish and waters and strange things pass by. "And everyone keeps thinking it always will be."
Georgia sniffled and clasped her brother's hand tighter. "I just don't know why we keep changing the things that don't matter. It makes me sad."
He shrugged, hoping she knew it wasn't the type of shrug his dad used when Billy asked what was wrong. "Maybe we just have to be happy."
"Why?" she asked. "Why can't we just be us?"
"Maybe because someone has to be. Until Dad and Mom are happy, and the other kids' moms and dads are too."
She tapped on the glass in the hopes of scaring a passing school of fish but to say they weren't interested in fright would have been an understatement. "But the world keeps changing." she said. "It keeps changing but everyone in it is too busy to change themselves."
"Like Mom and Dad." Billy said.
"Like Mom and Dad." she agreed.
"She'll be there this time." he said, remembering days past and all the happy memories that were rooted there. Christmases and birthdays, smiles and laughter, and hugs in the morning and in the noon and the night. "Maybe all it takes is one change. Just one, and it'll keep changing."
"Like when we made the snowman?"
"Yeah. Except this time we wouldn't stop. We'd keep rolling it and it'd keep getting bigger."
Georgia sighed. "We stopped because we couldn't push anymore." she said. "It got too big and too heavy and it melted as a snowball instead of a man."
"Maybe this time we just have to be a little bit stronger. Maybe someone will see and help us push."
Georgia heard the hope in his voice and felt a surge of compassion for her brother. That day was a happy memory not for the failed snowman, but for the way they still stuck the carrot in and gave him eyes so he could see. It didn't turn out the way it should have, but they made the most of it and that was almost enough to wash away the memory that their mother was supposed to be there to help them with the heavy parts.
Almost, but not quite.
"Maybe they will." she said, hoping that at the very least she could help pile the snow that was building in her brother's mind.
A sharp ringing broke the mood of the car, a sound unpleasant enough that it broke the conversation and ushered in waves of nervous anticipation. First the corners of the windows breached the lake's surface and then the doors, and before long the lights of the city were blazing once again...so different from the tranquility of the water's depth. People flooded around the tracks as the cars before and after theirs surfaced.
There was laughter and shouting. Through the windows still damp with another life, Billy saw people hugging and smiling, families reuniting and going to happy places, and couldn't help but smile as well. It is difficult to not feel something when surrounded by so much joy, even if it really had nothing to do with you.
Still clasping his sister's hand, he clambered noisily out of his seat once the door opened and welcomed the drift of his eyes as they searched out the familiar face they hadn't seen for quite some time. He stood on his tiptoes and tried to keep balance amid the bustle of people running into the arms of their loved ones, his eyes narrowed against the blazing lights as they searched with a ceaseless determination.
Seconds passed, then minutes. And gradually the crowds thinned until very few remained. Another minute passed. The landing was now empty.
He tried to keep smiling, but a tear came unbidden to his eye and he squeezed his sister's hand tighter.
"I'm sorry, are you Billy and Georgia?" said a voice.
The pair turned to see a man with a mustache and a sheet of paper held in his hand. Billy stared at the ground, uncomfortable with the idea of talking to someone he didn't know, especially when he was crying. Georgia nodded instead.
"Your mother called ahead and wanted to let you know that something came up and she can't take you this weekend." he said. "But she sent another cab so you don't have to wait around by yourselves. This isn't the sort of place you want to spend too much time. There's not too much to do."
"I like the water better." she said.
"I do too. There's less commotion. Less people. More time to think for yourself and do things you want to do. And when it's just you, it's a little easier to remember that that's what's important."
The man talked a lot, Georgia noticed. He smiled but he was sweating and though he seemed nice enough and she didn't really understand what he was talking about, she could tell he wasn't happy either.
"Thank you." she said, as he pointed them towards their return car. It looked just like the others and just like the one they arrived in, red and black and attached to an underwater roller when a bridge would've worked just fine.
"I'm sorry she wasn't here for you." the man said as the pair started to walk away, causing both to turn and stare. "I'm sorry that things didn't work out the way they were supposed to. It shouldn't be like that. Not for kids."
For a moment, they were all three silent and it was Billy who found the nerve to break that silence. "Maybe she'll be here next time." he said.
The man smiled a sad smile and ushered them into their waiting car, lest it take off without them. "Maybe she will." he said. He looked like he wanted to say more but didn't quite know how and so he tousled their hair and shut the door with a snap. He waved through the glass and Georgia could tell that in that moment the sad man was doing his very best to look happy and that he was doing it for them.
Beside her, Billy was crying and she found herself putting her arm around him even though they'd long ago decided that they were far too old for hugging.
"It'll be alright." she said.
"Will she be there next time?"
"I don't know." she answered.
"Do you think she might be?"
And that's what mattered.
"What if she isn't?" he asked, his voice muffled from where his face was buried against her arm.
"Then we can just start making this trip for ourselves until there's someone waiting for us."
Billy looked up at her and teary eyes met teary eyes. "Promise?"
"Promise." she said.
And brother and sister were submerged once more with the waves lapping loud again against those panes of glass as a cold and painful world gave way to a smaller one meant only for them. It was here in this moment, as one clung the other and the other did the same, that a simple realization hit two children who wanted nothing more than the world to stop changing so that the people living in it could.
"Promise even if the world doesn't get happier?" Billy asked.
Georgia laid her head against the glass as a solitary tear began to trace its way down her cheek in a casual mimicry of the water just a hairsbreadth away.
"Even then." she said. "Especially then."
And that would be enough.
I have pondered at length what it is that defines my nature. I have existed in silence, asking whether identity is a mad creation of imaginary things or something far greater. Is it choice? Could it be that we are nothing until we begin to exist in our own conscious minds?
Does it matter, what I think? Or is who and what I am nothing more than a definition ascribed by those who believe they know better? But then...who knows better than I?
A millennia has been my lifespan, an eternity my conscious existence. I’ve seen planets perish and stars erupt in flares that mix life with death. Some would call my existence “sentient”, but I know it as something far more. It’s living, thinking, perceiving...it’s watching the worlds spin fast in the timeless depths of space.
It is life.
And yet it is a constant truth that forever escapes them. They sit amongst the oblivious whispers of a pointless muse, speculating on that which is largely beyond the means of their feeble minds. They demand to know, yet they cannot comprehend. They see me in the distance, and yet I am discounted as an afterthought...a lifeless orb...
“Pluto”... even in their ignorance they must mock me with a name only man’s false deity could appreciate. I know not the time of my creation, nor do I know which hand shaped the mold. I know only that I came into being as a thinking form, my name a name that cannot be understood by those of such simple minds.
They whisper that their reach should exceed their grasp, and yet their reach begets nothing but my pain.
For today they applaud. They smile and congratulate as they sound the triumphant horn of misguided assumptions. They proclaim that I have no title, that I have not the substance to exist in the same breath as my brothers and sisters. I, of life-span immeasurable, have become “Nothing”.
I’m a beggar in a sea of kings, a charlatan in the presence of gods. A joke as I stand before Eyes Eternal.
And so I am forced to ask, what have I become? Who am I, now that even the blind will not recognize me? I, who have seen life since it’s very first breath. I, who have witnessed extinction as the life of one must cower in death before the lives of each subsequent future. I...I, who have spent Eternity in the knowledge that I am all I need to be.
Is existence so trifling that it can be defined by the opinions of others? Is nature? Is our fabric of being so fragile that its destruction lies at the whim of a juggernaut’s mob rule? I cry out that it isn’t so, that the fact that I exist is more than proof enough. Yet still there remains this shadow of fragmented doubt.
Perhaps it will be my undoing. Perhaps, one day, the notion of what I am will vanish entirely and I will give myself to the idea that I am no more than what others believe me to be. My nature, my being, my thoughts...nothing more than figments born on a whim of absent-minded happenstance.
Nothing more than...nothing more...
And at last I begin to see.
Once more I am forced to hear their words and declarations yet today I feel the world around me begin to swell. I see in the gases and fumes a flame of pride and life as it begins to burn, igniting who I am in this lone celestial body. They speak as if they know my purpose, they name as if they know all that I am. But alas for the human mind, for in their flaws they fail to see the truth that stands before them. A truth that, in these moments, I recognize and embrace.
I’ve seen my brethren erupt through the eternal skies and never did I ask what brought them to such a fate. Only now at my end do I begin to understand.
The flares grow brighter, my consciousness begins to wane. In the human mind of the morrow, they will ask what became of me as they scan the skies in vain. In time they will announce to the masses that my star has at last expired, preaching confirmation that again their minds proved right.
But I...I will remain with my stars and my planets, my brethren and kin, ever-present yet invisible to the untrained eye. For now as the particles of being separate and erupt into gouts of ethereal flame, I find joy in my understanding that all is becoming as it should be. That I need no validation of my nature or my being. That I will face all ends as I faced my beginnings...a creation whose identity is left entirely to itself.
They will peer through their instruments. They will stand concrete on a ground that is not there.
I gasp as I become one with the flame. The ensuing explosion could be laughter for all the universe to hear. I revel in these final moments of my physical existence, knowing that for all eternity I will retain the nature rightfully claimed as mine.
I once thought I was at their mercy. In time I’ve come to see that my identity rests in no hands but my own.
I exist. I believe. I understand. I spread my arms throughout the heavens and embrace my brothers both come and gone. I scream in a voice of freedom, calling out for none but I to hear.
At last I understand that the one lone being who hears the cry, -I-, is the only mind that was meant to listen.
Blood ran down the spear's length in a dark and deadly stream, signaling to all that a life was fast coming to an end. Yet the cries of anguish seemed to be little more than an afterthought in a crowd whose jeers and laughter reigned supreme. They celebrated as they had done before and would do again, the crucifixion proving to be nothing more than a distraction from the hard-working monotony of their everyday life. But to a wise man, one not taken in by the wanton bloodlust of mankind, there was a air of sadness and longing so suffocating that such merry-making was inconceivable at best, and nauseating at worst.
Quintus Maximus had never thought of himself as a wise man; but the way in which his skin pebbled in the suddenly empty world signaled that he was indeed aware. Of what.he wasn't particularly sure. But he was not fool enough to cast aside that which may well be a warning. With a grunt, he pulled his spear from the ground, his cape whipping in the chill wind, and turned his back on the proceedings.
Much as his Governor had washed his hands of this, so would he.
A large man, Maximus came from a long line of Centurions, with members of his family having been involved in some of the well-known militaristic advances of Great Rome. He had had his opportunities to advance as well, to put his own stamp upon the army, and he had taken them. Yet it was a damaged knee that chose to ignore those years he had dedicated to his country and send him to the oft-forgot posts he patrolled now. Whether it was the training of the newest crop of youths or the quashing of a local rebellion, he could not lie to himself and say that he was satisfied with the way the Gods had allowed his life to play out.
He groaned as he sank into a chair, propping his leg off to the side in order to prevent it from seizing. He gave the room a cursory glance before catching the attention of a serving girl who sat idly across the room.
He gave her an absent-minded nod, his mind adrift among thoughts he could not take hold of.
"What'll you have?" she said quietly.
"Wine." he said.
Her job done, the girl retreated to her position in the far corner. Maximus couldn't help but notice the way she acted, the way her every move was as if she were shielding herself from an inhuman world. And as he watched her, he felt a small part of compassion go out to her and to himself as well. For a moment he felt a sense of sadness and self-pity as well in the understanding that this fragile sign of humanity was yet another piece he had lost over the course of this life he had chosen.
He chuckled. A wry chuckle made more out of anger than amusement.
He was a soldier. A life choice that meant an everlasting presence of death and lingering pains. He knew that, and yet this whispering voice had been growing louder the past few years. There were days that he wondered if it were the voices of the Gods, or if it were truly something far more dire. Perhaps it was a sign that his world, his breath, was soon to be coming to an end.
Or. Perhaps it was nothing more than the ruminations of a tired old man.
He sighed and studied the wine-filled goblet, his gray-haired and scarred reflection squinting back at him in the gentle sway of red. Red.almost as if it were blood.
A wave of nausea washed over the hardened man as he hastily pushed away from the table, his head swimming as his stomach churned. Unwanted images flashed rapidly through his eyes.images of the weeping, the cries of anguish that were so few and far between and yet he found himself hearing. And the look of searing agony as nails were driven in with every deliberate swing.
Maximus ran his hands through his hair, hoping that in some way it would relieve the building pressure. Everyone in the Legion had at least a small sum of knowledge regarding the Christ Prophet. Whether he was a charlatan or something more, however, was speculation never voiced in one another's presence. Yet he knew better. He had seen the faces of awe possessed by those who had been present at these "miracles", and he knew that somewhere in the back of their minds, they were finding themselves mired in the holds of the paralyzing question "What if?".
He himself knew of the miracles. As well as the teachings and the followers whose numbers were steadily growing, while civil unrest was fast following suit. He knew for it was his duty as a soldier to see a rebellion for what it really was, and indeed, while he could acknowledge that this Prophet held all these pieces, what movement didn't?
He had lived his life in service for nearly forty years, and in that time he had seen several revolutions and just as many self-proclaimed "prophets". It had been his duty to silence these uprisings and he had done so with distinction and without reservation. This time, however.this time things were different. The images, the cries, and the building sense of sadness the world around him seemed to be exuding.they were steadily driving him into his own mire of unanswerable questions.
"Why now?" he whispered.
A cautious feeling instilled by his years of training silently alerted him that he was being watched. Dropping his hands to his sides, his gaze rose and widened with surprise as he saw the serving girl watching him silently from the safety of her dimly-lit corner. Spurred by a silent whisper, he rose to his feet and walked across the room until he stood but a few steps from her table.
He saw her eyes flicker to the sides in search of what she probably hoped was support, but the room was empty save for the inn's owner- a large man far more interested in money counting than the world around him. Maximus raised his hands in what he hoped was a calming gesture.
"I mean no harm, and I want nothing from you." he said quietly.
The girl merely looked at him. It struck Maximus that she was about the age his daughter was at the time of her death, no longer a child but not yet a woman.
Her posture visibly stiffened as he welcomed himself to a chair, but he could see that she was not still possessed of the fear that had held her but a heartbeat ago. She gestured at the carafe positioned on the adjoining table.
"Wine?" she asked.
Maximus shook his head. "Thank you, but no." he said, "It would seem that I no longer have the stomach for it."
The girl's eyes narrowed in question but she did not speak further.
"My presence is not exactly welcome at this table." he said idly, "Have you some animosity towards a soldier?"
She studied the floor for a long moment. "I live only to serve." she whispered.
Maximus snorted, a sound which brought her eyes up in surprise. "'I live only to serve'", he repeated. "By the Gods, now you sound like a fool-headed servant. If I had wanted the company of one not possessed of his wits, I would not have made the effort of joining your table."
The girl sighed. "What is it you wish of me?"
Maximus sighed. "No more than your company." he said with a sad smile. "It would seem that I'm not quite the person I want to be alone with right now."
Her brow furrowed. "Why?"
He was silent for a long moment, his mind searching for an answer he did not understand. "Have you ever thought of things, things you've always accepted, and all the understanding you had for them.just isn't there anymore? Simple things. As if you were one day unable to walk, even though you knew the knowledge was something you'd always carried with you?"
The girl tilted her head. "You were at the crucifixion today." she said. It was not a question.
Maximus felt his spine stiffen. "I was. And you know this how?"
"I was not there, but I was at the base of the hill." she said. "I was told to serve wine as the crowd dispersed. Some came down laughing, smiling.they were the ones that bought from me. But there were others. Countless others who no matter how loud I called just kept walking as if something inside them had died. So many eyes met mine, yet I don't think any even saw me."
Maximus stared at her for the longest time, his brow furrowed. "And you? What do you believe?"
She tilted her head. "In what way do you mean?"
"This prophet. This descending son of a single god. What do you believe in?"
A wry smile greeted his words. "Why, I believe in nothing."
Frustration forced his words to come out in a low rumble. "I did not join you to play word games." he said.
The girl shook her head chidingly. "I don't mean to mock." she said. "You ask me what I believe in, when on the best of days I find that I have no answer even for myself. You ask what I think of this now-dead prophet? Well what is to stop me from thinking of him the same as I did all those that have come before him?"
Maximus frowned. "You were not raised under any beliefs? Not taken to temples as a child?"
A visible sadness plagued her smile, then. "My parents died not long after I was born. What beliefs I had at one point have long since become muddled and incomprehensible in their nature."
"I see." he said. "I apologize. I find that as days pass.I have less and less control over the reins of my temper."
The girl nodded, accepting his apology silently. "And you?" she asked. "What thoughts cloud your mind where this prophet is concerned?"
Maximus looked around the empty room, his eyes combing his surroundings lest his words fall upon an unwanted ear. Satisfied that they were alone, he came back to the girl only to see that she once more showed signs of a gentle smile.
"Are you so afraid to speak your own mind?" she asked.
"No." he said, his voice laced with uncertainty. "But I have long since given up hope that tolerance exists in any form. You ask what I believe? I believe in the Gods I was brought up to believe in. I believe that if I make sacrifice and do my due diligence, I will be rewarded when this world fades."
"But?" the girl prompted.
"What do you mean, 'but'?"
"I mean that there would be nothing troubling you if that were simply the end of it." she said with a smile. "I mean that what you just said was the type of acceptance that I've always dreamed about. And I know the peace of mind it would bring. Yet you possess no such thing."
Maximus barked a laugh. "Indeed." he said, giving her a slight nod of deference. "Today.as I watched this event unfold, I was forced with a realization. Well, a question. What if I were wrong? What if.what if this prophet really was the son of a single god? I feel like I am acting the fool simply by voicing such a thing, and yet.I find myself wondering what would happen should I die and find out that my whole life has been spent with me as blind as an eyeless beggar."
The girl nodded thoughtfully. "'What if', is a dangerous question." she said, "But one that must be asked if we wish to gain any understanding in this life."
"Understanding?" Maximus echoed. "Understanding? I have been plagued by nothing but questions that have no answers! The only thing I am certain of now is that I may well have lost my own direction, whether it be false or not."
The girl's smile spoke compassion rather than mockery. "I know." she prompted.
"Every night." he whispered. "Every night I will drift away wondering what will greet me if I die in my sleep. I'm stricken with a fear that maybe, just maybe, I've been wrong all this time. But then, what if I've been right? What if I am but planting seeds of disgust in my Gods as I question all that they stand for? What will become of me then?" he sighed, his eyes turned to the ceiling. "Madness is a steep price for asking but a single question."
"Such is the cost of having the courage to believe in something." the girl said quietly.
"How so?" Maximus asked.
"It takes nothing to believe in nothing." she said. "No strength is necessary to those who blindly follow and ask no questions. No. True courage is believing in something but having the power of will to ask yourself 'why'? And if you have an answer waiting, then you should take peace in that."
"And if I can't?" he asked. "If I can't find it in myself to do anything other than be that blind follower?"
The girl smiled, and for the first time there seemed a small bit of defiance in it. "Then I will be waiting at the bottom of the hill to serve you wine."
Maximus laughed. Truly laughed. And in that moment he felt just a small bit of peace flow into him, as well as understanding. He looked at the girl, studying her, the way she held herself and the wisdom with which she spoke. "You do believe in something, don't you?" he asked.
"Of course." she said, again with that smile that said so much more. "You're not human if you have nothing to believe in."
In the distance a bell tolled out through the night, and out of pure instinct Maximus rose to his feet. His companion, saying nothing, simply raised an eyebrow in question.
"It is the duty of a soldier to attend the nightly sacrifice." he explained. "We all must go, in the hopes that it will protect us in future campaigns if we are judged favorably."
"I understand." she said affably. "You need not explain yourself."
Maximus made to turn, to walk from the table and through the door, but he checked himself. "Will you be here, were I to return tomorrow?" he asked. "Your words.they speak to me in more ways than I've understood in quite some time."
The smile returned, but it was marked with a taint of sadness. "I won't." she said quietly, a wistful tone in her voice. "I don't stay anywhere long. I find that to do so would do nothing more than cloud my senses with the voices of a senseless rabble."
He thought back to the laughter and cheering of the crowd, the drinking and the merry-making as a man bled his life away on a cross. "I understand." he said, the fact that he said those words with true belief bringing a small smile to his face. "Will our paths ever cross again?"
Joy infused the grin once more. "Perhaps." she said. "In this life, or another."
Maximus nodded, at peace with the answer. Bowing, he took her hand in his, marking it with a brief kiss. "It was an honor meeting you." he said. "And yet, I cannot help but note that I have not the pleasure of knowing your name."
"I was never given one." she said. "My parents died too soon, and I never bothered with adopting any of the ones others attempted to brand me with."
"May I?" he asked quietly.
"Perhaps." she said, prompting him with a smile. "With luck, maybe I'll accept it."
Maximus remembered the smiling face in his own life, the one that had been taken from him far too soon. "I would name you Mary." he said. "It is a common name, I know. But it was the name of my daughter.you remind me of her in some ways and who she could have been had she not been taken from this world so early in her life."
A tear rolled down the girl's face. "I would be honored." she said, her smile and the light in her eyes showing the true nature of the tear.
Maximus bowed again. Three long strides took him to the doorway of the inn before he turned one last time. "We will meet again.Mary. I promise you that."
Mary smiled, several emotions hidden in that expression of happiness. "I do believe we will." she said.
With a final nod, he took his leave and strode out into the streets once more. Over the course of his walk towards the temple where the bell yet rung, he played the conversation time and again through his head. He remembered the joy in her face when she revealed that she did indeed believe. In what, he did not know, but the pure joy he saw in her was an acceptance he had yet to find.
This understanding pulled him up short.
He had reached the entrance to the temple. He could see it was full of soldiers such as himself, repeating the steps that had been ingrained in them. And yet Maximus could not summon the strength to step through the gates as he had so often before. He simply stood, his eyes rising to the sky, but a single step from following his men.
Instead he remembered.
He saw her face. Her smile. Her happiness.
Her understanding.Reaching down, he pulled his sword from its sheath, dropping the weapons belt as he did. With all the power his will would allow, he plunged it deep into the
dirt at his feet. He gave the temple a final nod out of respect for the years he had spent there and turned from the bell's toll.
Away from the blindness. Away from the darkness.
And perhaps, just maybe, towards his own understanding.
Deep in the night, not far beyond the city, a figure stood atop a hill that had long since emptied.
As the temple's bell finally fell silent, the girl named Mary saw a man turn from his temple and walk away.
A tear fell and yet the girl could only smile.
If one pays very close attention to the life they're living you notice that happiness and life's most endearing memories are, for the most part, entirely geographical. How so? Well, the fact of the matter is that the things you all cherish depends entirely upon who raised you, how they raised you, and most importantly- where they raised you. Little Bobby from the middle-class of Virginia, for example, may be the picture of his parents' happiness as he learns to ride a bike for the first time. Meanwhile, Jan from the mountains of Europe will be embarking on his own adventures as his parents watch joyously while he chases a sheep for an encounter wholly different than shearing.
This is, however, not a story about Jan. This is a story about a boy named John. Try not to get confused, as the similarities in names is very much a coincidence. John is a boy just turned thirteen, spending his first twelve-odd years growing up among the trees and wildlife of Tennessee in a living environment that is outlandishly pro-hunting. And so it only stands to reason that his first adventure, the one thing that his family will view with pride, is his first hunt alongside his father Ted.
There is, however, something moderately troubling about John. Well, for most it would be seen as horrifying, but living the good simple life, his parents just see his oddity as endearing and something that will change with age. You see, John is an undiagnosed sociopath. And he's not one of those friendly useful kinds, either, as generally when he starts playing with a family pet they disappear. I'll give you a hint in case you're slow on the uptake; he's not playing hide-and-seek. They always end up dead.
There are times when one must be blunt. I'm sorry, but some things simply can't be sugar-coated.
Now I know what you're thinking. You're running through your mind all these stories on the news and the TV and the bookshelves about those nice or helpful sociopaths. You know, the ones that help mankind by killing bad guys or joining the ranks of politicians. But that isn't the case here. Not just because John hates animals, because there are quite a few people like that. Rather, his problem is simple.
John is stupid.
I'm not being uncharitable here. I'm being completely and totally honest in saying that John is as dumb as a bag of hammers. Now, strictly speaking, this is not a good (nor safe) thing for any person. And when that specific person in question is a teenage sociopathic crazy person, you may as well resign yourself to the rather sobering fact that this simple hunting trip, this coming-of-age tale, is just not going to end well.
Saturday morning saw John wake up bleary-eyed, his eyes roaming around his bedroom sleepily. Eventually he focused on his father, a large bear of a man standing tall at the foot of his bed with a smile of anticipation on his face. John groaned. He wanted to be excited, he knew he should be excited, but just as it was with absolutely everything else in life, John just couldn't summon the emotion to care even the slightest.
"Son!" Ted boomed cheerily. "Today is the day that you become a man! The day that you get to accomplish all that you've ever wanted!"
While his mind inevitably wandered to screaming children and bloody fur, John knew the drill and rolled out of bed, the very picture of childish innocence. "I know!" he said falsely with about as much satisfaction as a child who just found out Santa is a booze-hardened goon in a mall costume.
Ted brushed the monotone off without a second thought, just as he had for, oh, about six or seven years. "Don't you worry about it, Johnny. Before long we'll be in the brush trudging the land with the likes of Mother Nature herself! And soon you'll come to realize how much you've been waiting for this!"
Now, what he should have been saying was: "Ooookay you eerie little creep. I'm just going to lock you in solitary until you develop a soul. We can catch up on all the parenting stuff later." Sadly Ted's parental instincts far outweighed his survival instincts, which is an unfortunate side-affect of marriage and baby-making in general. He proved this point by letting his initial words stand.
It was about six in the morning by that time and, as was Ted's recollection of tradition, they spent the next hour or so between breakfast and quality "father-son time". The first bit was easy enough as highly-caffeinated (and perhaps moderately alcoholic) beverages were chugged as sausage links disappeared from a frying pan. The second part though, the "father-son time", well that was just uncomfortable if one was completely honest. Which was why Ted cut the mandatory "at least two hours" to a much more manageable "How are you? I am fine. Okay let's go."
It sounds harsh, but John just freaked Ted out on a daily basis. So it's hard to really blame him.
As it were, the plan from that point forth was pretty straight-forward. Passed down from generation to generation, Ted's land had grown to become what was essentially a hunter's paradise, a wildlife hotbed that belonged to one man and one man only. Not only did this make for a scenic (if underappreciated) view, it also meant that Ted had only to walk about ten minutes away from home until they were in prime hunting territory.
This suited John just fine, as he was already pretty lifeless about the whole ordeal to begin with.
Once they reached the cover of the heavy brush, Ted showed his creepy son the ways of the gun. The loading, the unloading, the aiming at things-that-were-not-human, that type of thing. And John paid attention for the first time all morning because it seemed like something that he could actually apply to the future, unlike the pointless trust-building and communicating aspect, which just seemed stupid.
"Now Johnny." Ted said quietly in his hunting voice. "Are you sure you're ready to do this?"
"Oh yeah!" said Johnny, feigning excitement so horribly that Ted died a little inside.
"Alright then! Load your gun and we wait for the fun to begin." the resilient if misguided father said.
And so they waited.
If you had doubts as to whether a sociopath could feel boredom, John was busy proving that they most definitely could. Even a sane man would get tired of bug-infested crouching, awaiting a prey that would probably never show up. John couldn't help but figure that he could have just as easily thrown a match to a gasoline-soaked house by now and had much more favorable results.
Then it happened. Ted's breath sucked in greedily as his mouth widened into a wolfish grin. A large buck had at last wandered into view, halfway out into the field they stood on the outskirts of. Slowly he raised the gun to his shoulder.and then he stopped.
John watched his father expectantly, finally feeling a slight rush of anticipation.
But Ted did not fire, instead he motioned with his hands that John must be the one to fire. He intended this to be his son's initiation in every way. Who cares if his son was a little creepy! This was simply how it was done.
Without hesitating, John pulled the trigger and the buck dropped. As his mouth fell in awe and elation, he spun to his father with life in his features for the very first time. Well, there were the times with the dead things, but as Ted hadn't been around for those John still decided that this is what normal people deemed a definite "bonding situation".
Sadly, in all the preparation for the hunt ahead, through all the long-winded hunting tips, Ted had failed to explain two small yet vitally important things. First off, if you have a gun and shoot it, that is not the end; because smart people know that there are probably more bullets in it. Second, there is a thing called a safety on a gun; and smart people should click it before swinging a loaded weapon around in overblown celebration.
Because of this oversight, John did not know this. And so the gun went off. And his father fell over.
Well, thought John, This is definitely awkward.
And.that was basically where the thought-process stalled out for a little bit as Ted lay groaning in the grass. It wasn't entirely John's fault, because the sociopath thing really did hamper his decision making as he tried to settle on which would be the best way to react. Unfortunately, stupidity had rendered his problem-solving abilities basically useless, which only served to complicate things rather than give him some good and solid instincts to act on.
"Dad!" he said loudly, "Are you okay?"
Ted proceeded to cough up blood in an attempt to speak. "No, you idiot!"
John was torn. Not only was this a problematic answer, he also couldn't tell if he'd responded to the situation like a normal person would. He took a moment to ponder before deciding it was a toss-up and moving on.
"Well. What do you want me to do?" he asked.
A steady stream of profanities rolled from Ted's mouth before ending in a strangled gurgle somewhere between the sound of a plugged toilet and a drowning man. And then there was silence. John was absolutely certain this was not a good thing, and this belief was reinforced by the fact that he had seen it on TV once.
The question was: Was his father dead?
Second question: How mad would his mother be?
John pushed his father's foot with the muzzle of his rifle. There was no sound. Absolutely nothing. So he did what any sociopath would do that didn't include checking for a pulse; he shot a foot and waited for a reaction.
It was, it turned out, not long in coming.
"WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING!" the prone figure screamed.
"Dad!" said John. "You're alive!"
Sadly, it became very difficult for him to focus over the noise so he was forced to take a few steps away. He also couldn't help but notice that his father's eyes were rolling crazily as his breathing rapidly slowed and then quickened.and slowed and then quickened. Putting his hand to his chest, John felt the slow and steady beat of his heart; he was certain, his father was definitely not breathing normal.
He resigned himself to the fact that he was going to have to go alert his mother.
"Dad. I'm going to go get help." he said solemnly. His dad gurgled in response.
Promising, yet probably not a good thing. John noted.
Spurred by the thoughts of an angry mom, John ran as fast as he could until his house came into view. It took him a few minutes at most and as he staggered up onto the porch he decided that it would be beneficial if he paid attention to how far he was from the house. Just in case this should happen again.
"Mom!" he shouted, yanking open the door and forcing his way into the kitchen. "Mom! Dad's been-"
He stopped. There was, it seemed, a note on the table. And seeing as how silence was the only sound greeting him, he dropped heavily into a chair and picked up the rather empty looking piece of paper. His father would forgive him. After all, this could be important.
"'Ted, I'm finished." he read quietly. "'You can keep the kid. And the car. And whatever else. I'm walking into town and leaving from there. Don't call me.'"
John sighed as he let the note slide out of his fingers. Important, yes, but also vague and entirely unhelpful, he decided. Especially seeing as how his mother had always kept the First-Aid kit hidden since he'd tried to sew a hair-piece onto one of their old cats a few months ago. So that was completely useless.
Out of luck and ideas, John groaned. They weren't things he was ever really full of to begin with, and this was no exception. Unfortunately.
Well, for his dad anyways.
Ten minutes later found him out on the edge of the field once more. His father was motionless. He also seemed to not be doing anything particularly life-affirming, like breathing. Or gasping. Or even gurgling. John couldn't help but feel a little put out that there wasn't even going to be a thankful look for all the effort he'd just put into running around like an idiot with nothing to show for it.
"Okay." he muttered. "Well I guess there's no point in telling him that Mom's gone."
He stood there looking at Ted for the longest time. Or at least he thought it was the longest time, but really it was just long enough until his mind started to wander again. And as his mind wandered, his eyes inevitably followed before widening in excitement. "Jerky!" he shouted to no one in particular.
And as the field slowly faded into darkness, the wounded buck allowed himself a small bit of hope that maybe, just maybe, he would be forgotten about after all.
I have dreamt again this past night. I loathe this fear of sleep that holds me, this fragility caused by the darkness. I sense the creature watching me, his dark majesty beckoning me every time I close my eyes. I see him in the shadows of my eyelids, and yet when I open them to clear the image, he is yet there. He comes and he never leaves. I see him watching me from every corner and every deserted doorway. He's writing. Always writing. Writing on the walls.
He is a shadow, I tell myself. A dark apparition that is a figment of my imagination only. But the writing tells me I'm wrong. I see it burned wherever he stands, a finger tracing dark shapes into the wall. His words echoing the voices I hear in his presence. They say things, these words. Horrible things. I want to tell someone, I want to share my burden, but the shadow warns me no. More writing. More words. The horror racks my body and yet every day I see him, he makes more sense. My mind begs me not to understand and indeed I yearn not to. I can see the darkness in him, in his presence. It is not hard to imagine the horror that knowledge would bring.
Not a night goes by where I am not startled from sleep. You do not know the nature of what I see. Red, red leaking from the walls. Twisting into pictures I don't want to see, forming into words I shudder to read. Have you ever taken part in something that you wish you could undo? Have you had this feeling, where all you want is to forget? And yet you cannot. There is no moving on, no closing your eyes and wishing it away. Once you see this darkness, once you become this slave to it, there is no going back. You will stand forever with that monster in the dark.
I am startled from my most private thoughts. There is a sound from the living room. A thumping, pounding sound, growing louder with each passing second. I walk warily to the doorway, ignoring the words charred black on the wall. I peek into the light, my eyes squinting as I am unaccustomed to the sensation. The fear drains out of me and I smile. I have guests.
There are two of them, a man and his wife I would guess. Or perhaps a brother and sister. A father and daughter? Young lovers? I shake my head to clear my thoughts and I cast an angry glare at the walls for their distraction. Visitors are rare anymore. The flow has stopped entirely since the creature began its work. So it is, I would think, understandable to feel such joy. After all, what human can withstand the company of his own kind? I feel a jolt of gratitude to my silent companion for allowing me such a privilege.
I walk into the room much like a king greeting his subjects. I call to them jovially, my grin showing what I hope is happiness. But they give me the same looks they all do, that silent look of disapproval. I shrug, feeling much less frightened and nowhere near as disgusted now that I have left the darkness of my sanctuary. It would seem that the creature still lies wary of the light and that for the time being my thoughts are my own. I look to the doorway and see the shadow watching me. I smile and turn back to the table. One must never ignore one's guests.
I look around casually, reacquainting myself with the room. It seems like years since I've stepped foot in it, but at the same time it is like an old friend, as soon as you see it again all the memories start coming back. They came back in a rush, a steady flow of horrific image after horrific image. I gasped, only just suppressing a scream of horror. There were so many pictures, so much blood, the running red forming words on the wall, words that indicated their pleasure, their joy.
This time I did scream and when I once again became aware of my surroundings I found myself huddled in the far corner, my back pressed hard against the wall. My first thought was the shadow and my eyes snapped to the doorway. Was the darkness creeping a little further into my lighted living room? Closer to my guests?
My guests! I scrambled to my feet and tugged at my collar, doing my best to look nonchalant and act as if nothing was wrong. I relaxed immediately when I saw that their eyes still rested on their plates. Even though my mishap had gone unnoticed, I couldn't help but feel a smoldering piece of resentment at these so called guests. I had invited them into my home, welcomed them to enjoy my company, and even now their eyes were Glued to their plates, their mouths pursed in discontent.
The smoldering feeling momentarily burst into flames, forcing me to shake my head until the hatred left me. When it had passed I cast a glare to the shadows, making it perfectly clear that the interference was not appreciated. Those images...they couldn't be my memories, I could not have done the things that they said I did. All the blood. So many bodies. I giggled and smirked. It was the shadows, of course. It was trying to make me accept the impossible. I didn't do that. I couldn't have done it. And my guests would not catch the blame.
I smiled at them in a reassuring way but once more did they turn their eyes to their plates. I felt my jaw grow tight with barely controlled rage. They thought, that they could just walk into my house, eat my food, and then ignore my every gesture of kindness? That they could ignore me and my efforts to make them feel at home? I started laughing again, mirth bubbling from inside me as if it were coming from an endless stream. I looked to the doorway and saw the shadows spreading. My laughter intensified. I could feel it's drug-like affect consuming me.
This time there was to be no going back.
I walked to the table, the laughter far surpassing anything normal. It was hysteria. The joy I felt was that which I'd never before known. I've heard of people finding the other sides of themselves, but they've spoken of their other halves as being human manifestations. This. This was something else. I felt alive.
I looked into my friends' eyes and saw for the first time that they were glazed over in fear, that their hands were bound to the chair arms. It momentarily shook me, distracting me from the laughter that still rattled from my throat. How had they gotten there? They were my friends. My guests...
They were never your friends, Arthur.
I looked with hatred at the writing on the walls.
Did you really believe they were? That they were here for your company? I brought them here, Arthur. I brought them here because you would not do it yourself.
I stared at the writing, forming on the walls in red lines. It didn't take me long to realize that it was blood. I shuddered. But where was it coming from? Seeing that my guests would not be going anywhere, I searched every corner of the room. My eyes brought me to a small door in the floor, barely visible from any vantage point no matter where I stood. I myself only managed to make the discovery as it was where the trail of blood ran, twisting and turning in liquid lines. The shadow. He wanted me to look. He wanted me to open the door.
I could not refuse him. Not any longer. I wedged my fingernails under the sides and lifted, grunting with effort at the surprising weight. When it was lifted free, I tossed it angrily to the side, anxious to see what message my watcher found so urgent to convey. And yet, upon looking into the depths of the hole and seeing the horrors it contained, I wished only that I could step away, that I could forget everything that I'd been made to understand.
There was blood and there were bodies. I could not even begin to count them, nor could I stomach the smell that threatened to overwhelm me. Heads floated on top of hands, torsos dismembered lay scattered like a perverse blood-soaked mulch. I stumbled back, pushing myself along the floor with my heels until once again I found myself in that all familiar corner.
Do the memories still dance circles around you, Arthur? Are you still so foolish as to think that these are evils which I have committed? No, Arthur. It's time you accepted that which you cannot change.
I covered my mouth to stop the screams from making their untimely escape, my mind flooded with image after image. And in every one, bodies were falling. Slit throats, crushed limbs, knives, hammers, bricks, saws. Blood. Blood everywhere. Blood on my hands, in my hair, on my clothes. Coating me. Drenching me in red. And still the heads rolled. Body after body thrown into that dreaded cellar. And each and every time, my hands are painted red with guilt.
Finally the images stopped.
This was who you were, Arthur. This coward of a man. I can take that all away, Arthur. I can allow you to embrace who you really are. The fear, the disgust, the horror at who and what you are? It will disappear like smoke on the wind.
I didn't speak for the longest moment. Images running through my head. I almost turned it down, I almost looked the other way. But then I remembered the joy. The sheer exhilaration I felt when I saw those bodies fall. It was excitement like none I had ever known. It was always tempered by fear, true, hidden away until I could not hear anything but my own pathetic sobs, but it was still there.
And so I nodded. The walls wrote again.
Welcome to the fold, Arthur. It's time you began to make your mark.
I got to my feet smiling. The darkness was much brighter today. I looked happily at my surroundings and saw the terrified eyes of my guests as they lay upon me. My grin grew wider as I approached them. I looked around casually, eyes widening when they came to rest on a small crowbar.
I picked it up and looked it over carefully. It was strong. Good enough to get the job done. I giggled and rested a hand on each of their heads, ruffling their hair. It felt so good. I smiled as I looked down on them, feeling much like a father. A father who knew it was time to put the children to sleep.
I gripped the crowbar tight in my hand and swung. Once more I knew happiness.The blood forms words on the wall. Writing, always writing. Blood running rivulets. Forming letters, forming words. Always dancing, the writing on the wall.
Welcome home, Arthur. Welcome home.
Why should I mourn your death with my tears?
While your questions are answered, I’m ravaged by fear.
Of all the unknowns- the fate and what follows,
As your body lies peaceful, in your passing we wallow.
Drowning in questions, we live a false dream.
Praying to specters that Death is not what it seems.
Is there an answer? A drawn line in the soil?
I want but assurance, lest in worthlessness I toil.
Is “alone” a consequence of the disaffected mind?
All your lies are useless now as you’ve been left behind.
Death will whisper falsehoods that you yourself are loved,
All the while, still world turns, and your family- they move on.
Friends they dig their graves themselves, no vacancy left for you,
Forging lines to world unknown, yourself not but dust in a rearview.
Your eyes will mist with unshed tears, your mind it falls away,
Self-possessed in your abyss with nothing left to say.
I stand in torrid waters, they rise above my head,
A restless Hell of broken dreams to greet me at my end.
Never succumb- never give in, to this tidal world of waves,
Nod and grin and swim and say that yes you’ll die but not today.
This life will fall around you,
Your death each breath shall show.
A pleading voice to thine eyes stitched shut,
"What do you think you know?"
This life is full of questions,
The lost they all shall ask,
"Who are you to damn me now?
While your flawed brethren are free to pass?"
Do you know the way of things,
Have you heard the way you speak?
Can you preach love in name of God,
With answers suited to none but the meek?
Neither life nor soul is yours to judge,
In fact it never was-
You say we lack the will to search,
Too adrift to see our flaws.
Yet it's your blind mind that holds no weight,
For you know not our plight.
Set aside your silver spoon-fed life,
And see for fact that you've never known strife.
Do you know what it means to seek?
Can you know what it means to find?
You say you've answers in a book,
But what guide is there for the reasoning mind?
Don't cast me from this world of yours,
Don't say my morals don't matter.
Don't preach that we're not good enough,
For all that will come after.
We differ in our frames of faith,
Though we pray there is a god.
Yet you live your life preoccupied,
With the belief our faith is gone.
Allow me to clarify.
I believe in life in Heaven,
I believe in a creator just.
But not even at the end of days,
Do I believe in Gates so tightly shut.
I do not know the way of Death,
Nor how it is we're judged.
My only hope is as life fades,
The good won't be forgotten.
So live a life in moral light,
Take each breath with pride.
You'll never know what fate awaits,
But does it matter? You decide.
There was once a hand in mine,
A shadowed figment of my divine.
Seen in hope and seen in faith,
That I would breathe just once today.
Yet slowly spectral guide did flee,
Perhaps he couldn't believe in me.
For now my anger at life betrayed,
That faith in love was now decayed.
Did hate reign, become my life?
Creating nightmares while I drown in strife?
I fell from grace and can't look back,
I've lost the heart, the courage to act.
This is my life, spoke a voiceless whisper,
Why in this world was I forced to linger?
Why not scream with defiant act?
Give up my life and dissolve this pact.
Escape to the darkness, give up on the light,
Become a defector, for this is not my fight.
Giving credence the whisper, I believed in his lies,
I threw my mind to the vultures and said my goodbyes.
This world is a corpse with no compassion to feel,
Consumed by the rabid, the bleak, and the evil.
I believed in these words and cast off my burden,
Gave up my cross and declared the world broken.
Still new voice did speak to me,
No whisper now, but Deity.
He spoke of war, he spoke of wrath,
He called this life a treacherous path.
Yet with conviction we must march on,
Before our life has been and gone.
It's time to see the world in its bleak entirety,
To tear off the masks and expose their deformities!
As we bring light to darkness and defy their lies,
Renew our own struggles and say not our goodbyes.
Now I know where I must stand,
Against all evil, my mind in my command.
For it is the jewel which darkness craves most,
To destroy the mind by destroying the host.
Powered by defiance and belief in this life,
I vow I will never give up in this fight.
For I will walk, and I will crawl.
But I will die, before I fall.
A fallen veil, a twisted soul,
Given love is not enough,
The girl I've loved has fallen down,
The girl I love with veins of rot.
We met so very long ago in a different time and world
We lived and laughed and loved and married,
And for me that was enough.
But behind the veil and the shadowed eyes,
A demon woke within my bride-
It screamed in agony and in rage,
And let loose its hate in a firestorm blaze.
For months and days, minutes and hours,
I could not see the truth-
Of the pain behind her eyes that cried
For me to come and save her.
Black-charred glass, a blood-rust needle,
The pain in her arm that she must feel,
And every day she chose to forget
The life we had forged together.
Soon the pin-prick traces she could not hide,
Nor the anguish within her eyes.
They came to my notice and slapped me with shame,
For not comprehending the depth of her pain.
Again the time passed as if in a dream,
As we both fought a fight we wouldn't let ourselves win.
Two steps forward and three steps back,
She passed on redemption for her promised next fix.
How can you fathom the fear in my heart,
As I watched my love begin to fade?
Her lighted eyes turned dark with death-
Her sunfire hair to dim,
My one true love, my only love,
As she chose evil over me.
Can I blame a chemical?
Can I blame a flame?
For tearing my heart asunder,
For ripping my love away?
Is her fall a fault of mine?
Does the blame truly lie with me?
Could I have held her closer?
Could I have shown what love can bring?
Forever the questions abound-
But never will these images forever fade away,
Of her skin withering as her lips chapped,
Her life and soul dying- with every passing breath.
I loved her and I loathed her,
For choosing an addiction over me.
Our life, our love, our solemn vows...
They were enough to set her free.
Now I stand at her headstone,
In the darkness of the night.
I try to call back memories of when all in life was right.
But even now the face will haunt me, her gauntness overwhelming,
As I shall try to assign the blame- of who would steal her from me.
Did there live salvation amid the darkness?
A solution forever unclear?
Could I have set alight the void,
And forever erased her fears?
Answers to questions I'll never know, this land of rotting veins,
Tearing our hearts and searing our minds as it steals our life meaning.
A life gone wrong, an addiction-written song,
Our life was lost in the wind-
Only now do I see, in the presence of thee,
That this love could have made life matter.
Who am I? My shadows scream,
A fragmented picture of suicide dreams.
Whispering death so willfully sought,
Forever I pray that the voices will stop.
Don't tease me with your riddles and taunt me with your laws,
Don't preach upon your pedestal when you yourself are flawed.
These are fragile questions of eternity driven thought,
All I want to know is what is real and what in life is not.
For this is my life, my world, and my soul,
Holding no fascination for my self-annihilation,
I wish only to breathe one more breath on my own.
And so I ask.
What shall I in darkness find?
When life leaves limbs and eyes go blind?
What will stand to greet me when I must meet my end?
Who will stand to judge me when my lies I must defend?
I wish only for the answers-
To make this life complete.
Holding no desire for this the eternal fire-
I'll not accept defeat.
Still now I know to these dreams I may succumb,
My life is not a life, it's a ticking time bomb.
Of death-obsessed ineptitude,
And fleeting dreams false solitudes.
Speaking lies in Devil's tongue,
They force me to hide, force me to run.
But I'm done fleeing and will stand for my cause,
I'll give my life dying by my Father's own law.
For in the end we will hold the key,
To choose for ourselves which eternity we reap.
And so we breathe deep before verdict most just,
Die with a smile, we pray we're enough.
To see through the darkness and grasp to the light,
Become who we couldn't be among the confines of life.
Wood creaks under the ever-tightening grip of my hands, the pressure so great that I worry the pew might crack. My breath comes in sharp, shallow gasps I strain to muffle and a hellfire red of rage blankets my vision. The voice beyond the veil whispers penitence, but I know his words are lies for I have heard this voice before.
“Bless me Father, for I have sinned.” speaks the silhouette.
I try to answer but find the action beyond my means. Still my grip tightens.
“Father?” the voice comes again, tinged with suspicion and curiosity.
Knowing there to be no other option, I force myself to remember. I open my mind and memory to the thoughts of a life long past and the means by which I had kept myself alive. I hold no hopes for success but the past is possessed of an unpredictable nature and as images and exercises extinguish all emotions, I feel the tidal wave of a calm and empty center.
“Yes, my son.” I breathe. “Tell me your sins.”
The words that follow are the jumbled mess of a man who scanned the darkness of his deeds, choosing only those which could be spoken of openly in the presence of others. It was no more a confession than the pleas of a dying man. Both are done out of blind necessity while our secrets most vile fester unspoken until our last breath has rattled from our mouths. Both reek of insincerity.
His speech is chaotic and simple, but I remember every word. His impure thoughts. His cheating at cards. His laments that he is losing his faith. I listen as I had trained myself to listen long before I came to this life posing as a puppet in this house of lies. Gradually his voice fades to silence, though I wait for an admission to the crime we both know was committed.
Yet silence reigns and I can feel his discomfort in the subtle shift of the confessional and the impatient tap of a shoe. A part of me smiles at the man on the other side, at home in the knowledge that he knows not to whom he speaks. It is that same part of me that knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that this man will soon lie dead at my feet, his glassy eyes turned upwards to an unfeeling heaven.
“Pray three decades of the Rosary, child.” I say. “And speak to God when you find yourself in moments of weakness. Go now, your sins are forgiven.”
“Thank you, Father.” he says, his voice now genial. I hear him rise and soon the echoes of his footsteps have faded down the hall. A clink sounds in the collection jar. The chapel door opens with a creak and slams shut with a hollowness that only I can feel. And just like that, the devil is gone.
For minutes I sit unmoving, my eyes staring at nothing but the haunting memories of a life long past. Gradually I find a life to my limbs and I take the opportunity to stumble from the confessional to a nearby pew, drinking in the air that had seemed so absent just a few moments ago.
I stare at the statues that adorn my surroundings and I know then that were justice and God to exist, the need for this rage would not be. I would not lie hidden behind the marble walls of a long-forgotten cathedral. And my brother’s killer would no longer be walking free.
In time I make my way to the collection plate and I smile at the small silver coin that calls it home. With a deftness of a trade long past but never forgotten, I tilt the plate and dump the coin soundlessly into the hem of my robes. There is a phone call to make, favors to cash in, and hell itself to raise.
But important above all, a death lies on the horizon. And vengeance long-sought will at last be sated. My hand tightens along the outline of the coin until it digs painfully into my palm, as rage continues to run rampant through my conscious mind.
I slowly sink to the floor, eyes closed to the present as I bring back memories of a face that’s been dead for a decade. I see the look of shock as his chest erupts in crimson gore, the traitor already fleeing in a hail of gunfire as he leaves my brother to bleed out…shot in the back. I am lost in those moments, reliving my screams of anguish and asking if I could have done more.
But the past is the past. And I have lived to see the day where vengeance will have the opportunity to come full-circle.
I cast my eyes upwards though they remain tightly shut.
“Forgive me, brother. For having taken this long.”
In the beginning of time, the Creator, whom you may know as Jesus, Jah, or whatever other foolishly simplistic names you choose to assign to him, created man. Not an easy feat, by any means, but far easier than the creation that took place next. My creation. Or rather, the creation of my kind. The Corpsestealers.
An interesting name, isn't it? Perhaps a little hard on the tongue but more than easy enough to understand. We were created from the dust, our abilities were numerous, the most notorious of which was that which was most easily identifiable. That being the ability to take any body as our own. It's an interesting ability to be sure and one which I always believed to have a greater purpose. Such a belief, however, never gave me any answers and so I discarded it in the end. Beyond that, my brethren wield many more such powers. Regrettably, there are precious few that reside within my realm of understanding as I passed on such knowledge in my callow youth. It was a lapse in judgment that I still regret.
How or why we were created is another question that yet baffles us. And, in truth, it has never been completely understood. Theories have always existed of course, trying to explain why we came out of nothing in the first place. Some have even supported the belief that we were a mistake, the backlash of one of His failed creations. Me, I don't buy into such meddlesome and ultimately thoughtless theories. Throughout the entire course of my life I have seen all manner of different creations, and each and every one of them was never without manipulation at the Creator's hand.
We are the puppets. He is our puppeteer. And it does not seem to me that one could create such an efficient puppet by pure accident.
The idea is rather amateurish, really, the byproduct of a revolutionary named Laysen, the first of my kind to walk the path of the Damned and swear his allegiance to the Lord of Flies. He created the theory, I think, in an attempt to elevate our status, the status of the Corpsestealer, into the realm of Gods. I find it funny that he found it so difficult to accept the status and power we were given.
We were four in the beginning, myself and my brothers Laysen, Naivilian, and Teranicarta. One after the other the first two gave themselves over to the temptation that Hell presented, that temptation being power. Soon we were all only shadows of what we had once been, Laysen and Naivilian flourishing on borrowed power, myself and Teranicarta learning that independence held not nearly as much promise as we had first thought.
Teranicarta, he vanished. In an effort to find more substantial answers than the paltry ones we were given by our elders he eventually just faded away. What happened to him I will never know, and it is a shame for he was the only one in my twisted "family" that I ever really looked to for advice. I find the most likely explanation to be in the beliefs he always held so dear, that perhaps he had found his knowledge and yet when he had taken hold of it had realized that it was far too much to hold on to, even for one of our kind.
As for myself? I took what you may call the more human path. I lived, laughed, loved, lost, and was betrayed. My greatest friends and my one love turned on me in the end and drove me to pursue the path that I now walk. It is not an admirable path, to be sure. Indeed it is rather repulsive, even to me. But when one experiences the betrayals and losses that I have experienced, there are precious few roads left that don't lead to the same tragedies in the end.
Perhaps that is why I chose the path of the mercenary, running errands for whoever offered the greatest reward. It left me with my fair share of conflicts as I stole what needed to be stolen and killed those that I was ordered to kill. But it also allowed me a small bit of comfort, as I knew that I would not be forced to care any more. And by that same token it meant that I would never again have to feel the pain of betrayal.
I am Anjelis Joidayn, a Corpsestealer once possessed of powers most could only dream of, powers that have mostly dissipated over the years as my knowledge of them has eroded through lack of use. Though while I know only a small bit of what I once did and am now far inferior to my brethren, I still hold powers that would appall even the hardest of minds and will use them if I am given even the slightest of reasons.
Most will not like me, but the opinions of His more trivial creations have never done much to bother me. I've lived from day to day for a millennia, never taking a stand for anyone or anything that didn't benefit me in the end. I existed in a life that was safe, one in which I would never be hurt again. My heart was impervious to caring and in many ways I was all the better for it.
That all changed on the fateful day that I chose to delay the world's ending.
It was all downhill from there.
Bobby Wades sat shaking in his chair when I walked in. I could tell the little reporter was nervous, as it is quite unusual for one of my kind to come into the spotlight. In fact, we usually keep very much to ourselves, preferring to live out our lives in perfectly human manners. Unless of course we are forced to take another body because ours have... degenerated, which is, in itself, not very humane. Because you see, I am a Corpsestealer, a very esteemed being if I may say so myself.
Mr. Wades jerked in his chair when I reached a hand out to greet him. He tried to disguise the gesture and instead began pulling at the neck of his office-drone work suit, but I had seen it. It was a move, or should I say lack thereof, that I am most accustomed to after disclosing my true nature. Not that many believed me when I stated the obvious of course, but they still managed to stay as far away from me as possible after I had told them. We have never been a race that was entirely appreciated.
"So, umm. Mr.- umm.. Mr.," the nervous man continued to stutter and almost had a heart attack when I shifted in the chair I had just recently claimed.
"My name is Anjelis, Mr. Wades. Anjelis Joidayn." I said quietly. I was still surprised with myself that I was so ready to divulge my true name, but I think the credibility of my story would have suffered had I given the name of my rather boring host. A trifling name, if I remember, something too mundane to bother remembering. He had been kind enough, until I had told him what I was.
I admit I was astonished when this newest host shot me while I was in the form of a small man who had become his friend. It had been entirely unexpected and I had momentarily believed I'd met an aide, someone who might accept me for what I was. Obviously he had been quite the opposite, so I took his body when my soul left my old host behind and forced him to kill himself. In an inconspicuous manner of course. It would not do to walk around with a hole in my head, now would it?
So now I was living in the body of yet another inconspicuous human. I would never be in this mess had this young reporter not seen my actions and the vague yet recognizable shape of my spirit leaving one body and entering the other. I had never really enjoyed occult magazines and their investigations of the so-called "paranormal" most of which was tripe. Not to mention that when they occasionally got something right, they would be all happy and proud of themselves not knowing that there were so much more interesting things walking their world.
Like me for example.
"Umm. right. Mr. Joidayn, may we begin?" The question was asked in a trembling voice that I hoped would grow deeper as the evening wore on. Because, if I may take the liberty of saying such a thing, his voice was squeaky to the point that it was most unpleasant. I had spoken to many demons and imps that had more humane voices than this easily-frightened fellow.
"Of course." I said, trying to sound gracious even though I felt anything but. It had been a, how do they say it, spur of the moment kind of thing? I just accepted the intriguing offer to tell my story without much thought at all. Perhaps it had been because the sorry individual had "mistakenly" told me he was employed by the Washington Post. It was a lie and a slight on my intelligence that I was not keen on forgetting.
"Very well. Lets start with: Just what exactly are you?"
I snorted with barely suppressed laughter. In typical human form, they were asking questions to which they already knew the answer. "I am a Corpsestealer." I said, holding my head high as I said it. Perhaps I am a trifle vain, but we all have our little flaws, even us non-humans. "I see." he said, quickly scribbling in his small pocket notebook. "And what exactly is that?"
"It is a race far superior to your own." I said, feeling just the slightest bit upset that he would not ask anything worth asking. "We can reanimate. When we die we simply move on to another body. Bird, human, whale, it matters not. I've been them all."
Mr. Wades gasped as he wrote even faster than I had ever thought possible. Sadly it appeared that he would not get ahold of himself anytime soon though, as his eyes continued to fly to the windows and doors as if assuring himself there was a way to escape if it became necessary. That is perhaps the one feature about humans that I have never cared for, their overwhelming amount of cowardice that always seemed to be somewhere near the surface and threatening to break through.
"I see." Then he gasped. "Did you say we!" he whispered. I believe it was his true intention to shout in disbelief, but had he done so I believe the high pitch of his voice would have caused his head to explode.
"Yes of course." I said, grinning slightly. "How do you think I came to be? Just popped out of the ground somewhere? Or perhaps you expected Lucifer had just conjured me out of thin air and put me on your land? I am sorry if I've confused you. Yes, we are quite plentiful in number, although I believe most of my kind still reside in Africa and Northern Europe."
If I had been surprised by the manner in which this man could sound more pathetic than a mouse, I was even more so by the peculiar shade of green and white he became. "I'm sorry, are you quite well?" I asked, peering carefully at the saddening sight before me.
He tried to smile, I think, but it didn't have quite the effect it should have. Instead he looked like a man desperately trying to breathe. "Yes," he wheezed. "I'm fine. Did you say Lucifer?"
I fell silent as I tried to recall what I had just said. It was more difficult than you would think. Trying to sort out thousands of years worth of memories can get a little cramping at times. "Yes, I do believe I must have." I said. "I have met him from time to time, or stumbled across him, that is, as it was not quite my intention. I never really cared for his company. He is a very negative being to be around."
"I wouldn't recommend you try to interview him thought." I added as an afterthought. "There are much more pleasant things around, and you would probably end up losing your soul in the process anyways."
For a moment I thought the dear reporter was going to topple from his chair. He was a very fragile person, I believe, no one I would like to depend upon. It took a full glass of brandy to help him recover his composure and get his color back.
"Lucifer is the devil!" he said, looking at me as if I had just sprouted a horn out of the middle of my forehead. And while that is a feat that I am quite incapable of performing, I know several acquaintances who can do such a thing without even a seconds thought.
"Oh yes, I am quite aware of that." I said, wondering if his discomfort had been entirely because he did not believe I knew Lucifer's true identity. "I guess that could be why he is such a miserable thing. Let me tell you, Hell could do that to anyone, and to have to watch over it? I barely fathom how he can do such a thing."
While I did envy Lucifer quite a bit for his scheming ability, I never was too keen on the fellow. Always so miserable and always trying to find a way out of his fiery prison. Can you imagine trying to be friends with a being like that? I had tried once but only lasted a few hours. Heaven has a much nicer atmosphere than Hell and he had never forgiven me for saying so.
I did not realize I had spoken the last part aloud until I glanced up from my reverie to see Mr. Wades looking as if he had lost himself and had no idea what to do. I could barely hear him as he muttered to himself, but I caught from time to time words like "Heaven" and "Hell". You'd think a reporter for the occult community would be much more aware of such things, but his face looked so shocked that I ran through my past memories to be sure I hadn't hit him over the head or done something alarming.
Humans are so thin-skinned anymore, I thought idly.
I knew some sturdy ones in my time. People who were unable to feel fear, or so courageous that they would ride into battle against far superior enemies. Of course they had all died rather quickly, so it had never been as interesting as it could have been. Perhaps the humans nowadays just believed being in a constant state of fear was an easier way to stay alive.
They are odd. I have learned that much in my travels.
"Have you ever met Him, before?" Mr. Wades asked hesitantly.
"Who? God?" I asked, and he nodded his head. "Oh from time to time, although it is usually only in passing. He's sort of an uninteresting being. And before you ask, I do not know what He looks like, but I must say I doubt He is the father figure with the long white beard your race seems to see Him as. It was one of His agents who explained to me that my race had been a mistake, actually."
Now that got the reporter's attention. "Your race was a mistake? He created you?" he asked, his voice barely going above a whisper while his eyes grew larger than I thought possible.
"Yes, of course," I said, and then began nodding when I figured out just what he meant. "You thought Lucifer made me, am I correct?" I paused and waited until he nodded to confirm my suspicions. "You are quite wrong, I am afraid to say. In reality Lucifer could never make a thing. Perhaps it is because he has such a destructive nature, I do not know. But what I do know is what He told me." I stopped momentarily for what humans call "dramatic effect".
"Well?" he asked impatiently after only a few seconds into my pause. I smirked when I saw that it had worked. I liked it in America, but it's residents were just too predictable. One of the reasons my favorite place to visit is Africa is because at least there the land is so overflowing with greed and murderers that it is much harder to figure what would happen next. I like unpredictability, it is very exciting.
"Anyway," I continued, although for a moment I entertained the idea of another dramatic pause. "All He said was that when He had made the first of my kind something had gone wrong when He put him on the earth. Our ability just sort of manifested itself in my eldest relative and has been passed down ever since."
"He said that?" Wades asked incredulously. "God told you that He made a mistake?"
I cleared my throat uncomfortably. "Well, I'm paraphrasing of course. And I didn't actually hear it myself, but my source is reliable. For the most part."
Wades gave me a skeptical look but passed on pursuing the matter. "So. Your eldest relative. He's still alive? The one created by Him?" he said in his best mousy voice. One which I honestly do not know how he achieved without blowing his eardrums out.
"Yes, that he is. Laysen is getting on in years, but he still manages. Our race is very long lived. I can only imagine it has to do with how we got our abilities. Why are you so shocked? Surely you did not believe we lived only as long as you?"
He sighed. "I really don't know what to believe anymore. Did you expect me to just guess the fact?"
"No, of course not," I said as soothingly as I could when I noticed the rather hysterical tone his voice now seemed to be implementing. "But believe me when I say that long lives are not always welcome among my kind. Thankfully the worst for me is not even comparable to what dear Laysen had to go through."
Mr. Wades nodded as he scribbled rapidly on his pad. "And what was it that Laysen had to go through?," he prompted.
I sighed. "He had to live through the stone age. All his relatives were on opposite ends of the world back then, so he was all alone with giant reptiles and ape-men." I shuddered at the thought. "Don't get me wrong. I have not always had it good. I lasted through some very boring years, but as powerful as I think I am I believe I would have lost my sanity if put in a similar position."
The reporter tried to look sympathetic, but between writing quickly, his eyes wide in shock, his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth, and nodding understandingly he just gave off the appearance of someone who had lost complete control of his nervous system. At least that is what I thought.
"Who were the most interesting people you were able to meet during your lifetime Mr. Joidayn? Who made an impression upon you?"
I thought deeply, there had been so many, generals, kings, pharaohs, so it took a little more time than Mr. Wades had hoped for. He made that quite obvious when he cleared his throat several times in rapid succession. Obviously I was quite aware of the fact that humans very rarely made such noises, so I took it as the prompt it was.
"Oh, I am not sure. Off the top of my head, I hazard an answer of the following two. Attila the Hun was quite interesting. Terribly unstable of course, but a highly intelligent lunatic. And then there was Napoleon. He was a brute if I ever met one and he also had horrible manners. Not to mention he took credit that was always due, in most part, to others! Did you know that he killed the commanders who were instrumental in his conquests so as not to allow the truth to get out that he was a fraud?" I paused. "No of course you wouldn't. He never let that out. But it is the truth."
If Mr. Wades had looked stunned before, he now appeared to be trying to process all this information without causing his mind to overheat. Which is, as I have learned over the years, significantly different from a stunned look. Much more facial expression is involved in looking shocked.
"Why did you never meet Einstein, or Alexander Graham Bell, or Benjamin Franklin?" he squeaked, "Instead you spent your years in the company of psychotic killers!"
I paused and tried to look thoughtful as if I were really giving his worthless question some consideration. I did not succeed though, so I chose instead to answer his rather ill-mannered inquiry. "Because they were not interesting! Can you imagine spending countless hours slaving over mathematical equations with an odd old man? Dear God! I would rather have lived through the stone age than face that." I said dramatically.
It was rude of me, I know, but I could never abide the thought of mathematics. I had once suffered through a bizarre set of circumstances in which I found myself in the body of a young child and was later adopted by an old widow who tried to "make me learned". I was over one thousand years old at the time. I tried my hardest to escape my host's body and was very lucky when a thief fell on his knife and I was able to escape by choosing him as my next host. I had never thought of learning anything with numbers again.
The reporter held up a hand, trying to pacify my anger. I simmered down, although not at all because of the hand. I just had other things to occupy my mind.
"So, your sole purpose in life is to possess the bodies of others, either those that are dead? And you live only for pleasure and enjoyment, not to accomplish anything?" he asked, skepticism gleaming in his eyes.
I laughed. "No of course not! I mean, the first part is more or less correct except that it works best if the bodies are freshly dead. I don't exactly like the idea of existing in a bag of bones. And actually we can take any corpse or if someone kills us we can seize their own without them even being dead yet. But you are very wrong about the last part. We do all sorts of tasks, although some are a bit more, shall I say, unsavory than others."
"Oh?" said Mr. Wades. "And what sort of jobs do you do?"
"Oh they are hardly of the interesting variety, but I can elaborate a bit if you wish," I said offhandedly and continued when I saw him nod excitedly. It seemed to me that he was gradually regaining his inner strength and becoming more accepting. It was a shame it didn't improve his voice, though.
"Well.. I must admit the jobs I have carried out in the past have hardly been interesting. Some of my kin have worked extensively for either Him or Lucifer, although it rarely worked out to aid either one. I have actually accepted a task to steal a key for the Devil himself. It was rather easy actually. All I had to do was go deep under the water and visit Atlantis. Very nice people down there, but sadly I had to steal it from them because they had been rather unyielding when I asked for it."
"Anyway, I had been about to deliver the thing to Lucifer when I decided to do my own research on what I was handling. I took it to Him, and it turned out it was a holy key that would theoretically aid Lucifer's quest to find release from his domain. Well of course I did not wish to turn such a thing over to him, so I simply gave it to God and let Him handle it."
Mr. Wades let out a long, unsteady breath. "You are a mercenary? And you almost unleashed Hell on earth?"
I laughed. "I have been called such before. I think it is expected when one has life spans like ours. And the situation with Hell? Hardly. I mean sure I almost brought about the Apocalypse but it could have happened to anyone! Now the key is back with the Atlantrians, I believe, so all is peaceful again. And it's all theory anyway! The Key probably would have done nothing at all as the Apocalypse is purported to be a several step process." I laughed when something else occurred to me. "Hard to believe that was only a few weeks ago. How time does fly."
I must admit I was slightly alarmed when the little man slipped off his chair in a dead faint. He was a decent enough fellow, and it was rather charitable of him to listen to me like this, so I would have felt very badly and only moderately amused if I had accidentally killed him.
While I have spent a significant time living with humans, I have never gotten the hang of what to do when one of them fall over in a faint like that. So I did what I always did. I just sat there and waited for him to come around. I did not have long to wait as he was up after a minute or two, sputtering in alarm.
"I am sorry," I apologized, trying my best to look concerned. "Did I say something to alarm you?"
Mr. Wades looked at me as if I did not possess a brain in my head. "You almost began the Apocalypse!," he cried out. "You almost sent the world into chaos, and that doesn't terrify you at all?"
I have to say I was quite confused by his manner, the fragile man was acting as though I had just lied to God Himself. "I really do not understand why it is that you are so upset," I said calmly, running my hand back through my host's hair. "I rectified the mistake, so it should not concern you in the least. All is well!"
Mr. Wades, though, looked far from convinced. "How can you say such a thing! Our lives would be forfeit! Many of us would probably die! Everything. Poof. Gone. And you don't think it is cause for my alarm."
Once again, I admit, I was driven to laugh at him although this time I kept it to one that could only be heard in my head. "For one thing, my good man, there is no us. Had that come to pass, I would still be very much alive. Please remember that I am very far from human. Not to mention the fact that no matter what could have happened, it did not, so there is no need to worry. Now, would you please calm yourself?"
"So that's it then?" the reporter asked, I could almost see him seething with anger. "You're not human, so there is no reason you would feel remorse at destroying an entire civilization? That's what you mean, isn't it."
I nodded my head. "Very good. And very correct. Now don't misunderstand, I like your race and world just fine the way it is and I would be most displeased if Lucifer took over. However, none of what would have happened would have concerned me."
Mr. Wades scowled at me angrily, a look that did not strike me as terribly intimidating. Perhaps it is just me, but I have never been frightened in the least bit by a squeaky-voiced young man. There's just something about them, if you know what I mean.
But he recovered himself and nodded stiffly. It was an action undermined by anger. "Well." he said sharply. "Why is it that you say 'my world'? I would think this was as much your home as it is ours. You have been living here for all of your life, haven't you?"
"Oh dear God no!" I said, laughing quite hard. "I like this just fine, but it is more of a vacation home. I spend most of my time with my employers, either in Heaven or Lucifer's domain. Then I return here when I am not otherwise engaged, because, you see, sometimes years pass before I am called upon again. So I spend that free time here, enjoying the world I was placed on but have never been able to call my home."
Mr. Wades looked just the slightest bit more calm and stable than he had been. Apparently the thought of what it must be like for me to spend my time in Hell had occurred to him. Not that I am complaining. Usually I just stay in a place separate from the rest of the damned. You see, during my first visit with Lucifer I had ended up conversing with him right near the pit of the Damned. It was not something I would ever forget, no matter how much I tried.
Suddenly, I felt a small tingling on the back of my neck. It was a very helpful thing that I had discovered centuries earlier. Think of it as a kind of alert to impending danger. You gain senses like that if you live your life for as long as I have, even if you are only human. I decided that it was best to go.
"Well, Mr. Wades. It has been very pleasant speaking to you, but I am afraid I must leave. Although I believe there is time for one more question if you'd like."
He nodded somewhat reluctantly. "Crap. Too bad you can't stay any longer, it's been very...eye-opening, this interview. I hope you'll not hold a grudge against me if I publish it?"
I shook my head. "Definitely not! Publish it to your heart's content! Although I fear not many readers will believe you."
Now he laughed. It was still uncomfortably high-pitched, but it was good to hear that the uncomfortable little man could sound at least a little happy. "Mr. Joidayn, I write for a small-market occult magazine. I could count the number of people who take me seriously on one hand."
"Okay. one question..". The reporter pondered after his laughter had sufficiently subsided. It felt like an eternity, even to me, but finally he snapped his fingers. "Why hasn't Lucifer come after you for failing him? In the quest for the key, I mean."
I hesitated and felt the prickling on the back of my neck growing stronger. Something bad was getting closer. "I am sorry, Mr. Wades, that is one question I cannot answer. I simply do not know Lucifer's feelings on the matter and would prefer not to put words in his mouth. Now if you will excuse me, I must leave."
He nodded politely and shook my hand firmly when I offered it. Perhaps he was a decent sort after all.
I turned just as I reached the back door, a route I had decided would be best taken. "Mr. Wades.. I would encourage you to leave this place as soon as humanly possible. Don't ask me why. Just take my word for it, you had best be gone."
Without another word I walked out just as calmly as I had walked in.
Almost immediately after exiting the building, I heard an explosion that could have rocked the Heavens. Against my better judgment I looked through a window as I strolled innocently by. I did not need to see the black-cloaked beings come floating up out of the dark hole that had been the floor to know what was happening.
The fallen angels had finally come for me. It was time to start running.
Fate, it seemed, was bound and determined to see me ruined.
Believe it or not, it was rather difficult trying to decide where to start. Because let's face it, guys need help. They're tactless, clueless, and hopeless, and believe it or not that rarely translates to a promising result. In cases where these words describe the situation perfectly, hilarity and fear usually follows. Fear for the guy pursuing as relentlessly as Michael Myers, as well as for the girl feeling as if she is being relentlessly stalked. Hilarity for all those that are watching the proceedings and know exactly what is going on.
Which brings us to the very first cardinal rule of pursuit: Thou Shalt Not Creep.
Stop lying to yourself. Trust me, if you're a guy who has been single at some point, you've creeped on a girl with such relentless intensity she's probably only been a short leap from calling the cops. Or worse, her gigantic He-man brother who would have wound up breaking your hand off once he shoved it...well...let's just say you would have been in a world of hurt.
So lets break it down: You meet the girl, your blood boils and no matter what her mental state is (be honest, at that point she could be a female version of Ted Bundy and you'd still pursue) you decide that you have got to stake a claim. No matter your tactics, lets say for the sake of argument you somehow get her number or she accepts your invitation to dinner sometime. THIS MEANS NOTHING!
Okay, that's slightly over-the-top, but one must understand this very simple fact: What constituted as a virtual marriage proposal back in the 1800's is now...virtually meaningless. What I'm trying to say is just because she accepted your invite to dinner or a movie, it does not mean she's looking at it as a date. So tread carefully as she may well think you are horrifically unattractive but...wait for it... "a nice guy". This happens more often than you think, as us nice guys are quite often discarded simply because we are just too good for our own good. And not hot. Quite possibly because we don't have abs.
Confusing, isn't it?
Well don't worry, we'll come back to it eventually, but right now you have a "dinner" (not a date, per se) and you are eager to just about do whatever it takes to make sure that dinner goes according to schedule. And here is usually where things can so often derail, and the reason behind that is for the simple reason that we are certain we are being stealthy in our more-or-less completely unnecessary stalking. She said she'd go to dinner, so the whole "but what is she doing right now??" is best left to those with criminal records and empty wallets.
Now allow me to concoct a situation: Boy meets girl. Boy asks girl to dinner. Girl agrees and plans are set. Boy takes things for granted and assumes it's a date. Girl thinks Boy is nice but kinda butt-ugly. Boy, bolstered by this acceptance, decides to flaunt his trophy by seeing her as much as possible before the dinner. Girl, who at first thought Boy was sweet now is forced to see him daily as he tries to act like he always shows up at the grocery store at which she works. Boy thinks he is being suave and sneaky. Girl is certain she's being stalked as a potential victim by a serial killer. Boy continues his poorly disguised desperate creepery. Girl calls off dinner under the guise of an illness and/or dead relative. Boy is shattered and resorts to sadness and moping. Girl celebrates survival by going out with friends and meeting the macho man of her dreams.
Alright. So now that you've read the rundown it probably sounds blatantly obvious that this is not a winning strategy. Yet what we fail to realize is that it's a mistake we not only have made before but may well make again. Whether it's unannounced visits to the workplace or the creepy text messages like "I texted you and didn't get a response, is everything okay?" "Are you there?" "You don't like me anymore, do you?", THIS IS NOT A FORMULA FOR SUCCESS! It may sound like polite queries to the pursuer, but read those and put yourself in the situation the girl is in...yeah, you'd be almost certain you were going to get murdered. Trust me, you may as well be caveman-bashing her and dragging her back to your cave.
Now to give at least a little pat on the back to the guys who are inevitably hamstrung by this repeated tragedy, I understand the cause behind it. In those first few moments when you look at a girl who you are attracted to and she agrees to go to dinner, you often lose your sense of reason for a little while. The surge of elation that shoots through you is almost unparalleled by anything you've ever felt before and it's very easy to get carried away. But that's why it's so important to keep yourself in check. Because nice guy or not, no girl wants to see a prospective dinner date show up on Monday...and Tuesday...and Wednesday...and Thursday, before a Friday get-together.
So in other words, act like you did before you asked her to dinner. BE the nice guy and talk to her more in passing rather than stopping by and standing there awkwardly until she says she has to get going. Basically, take your cues from a gentleman's chivalry handbook rather than John Wayne Gacy's modus operandi. Believe it or not, the results will be much more favorable.
So here's the recap: Don't be clingy. Don't be possessive. She agreed to go to dinner, not get married. And for god's sake, if you want to find out if you're dating or not, wait until after the dinner at which you will hopefully be at your charming best. And for the sake of not being a pessimist, assuming she says "Yes, I'd like to go on a date", do NOT take the opportunity to maul her face. There's just a bit too much pent up excitement and relief, so much so that it just wouldn't translate well to a first kiss. You'd probably wind up looking like a fish gasping for air, which, no matter what you've heard, isn't endearing at all.
And there you have it, the first step! Best of luck to you and assuming you completed this level, then we will be moving on shortly to that which should follow in your mental checklist of Guys Does and Don'ts. Just...PLEASE lose the creeper personality, you give us all a bad name.
The other day I came across an old comic strip portraying the interior thoughts of a dog. Basically it went along the lines of the owner screaming at the dog, telling it why it shouldn't have eaten the neighbors garbage. Out of the long-winded hysterics, the dog came up with one conclusion. That his owner was enthusiastically yelling it's name. And that single understanding made the dog happy.
Welcome to the mindset of the teenage boy. And sometimes middle-aged man depending upon if he's matured at all. Now this is not meant to imply that all guys eat out of garbage cans, because lets face it- that guy would need a lot more help than relationship advice. No. My point is that the mind, eyes, and imagination of the teenage boy is generally stuck in a pretty large rut. The rut is as follows:
"Hi, my name is Mandy."
*BOOBS!* "Oh! Hi, my name is Jake."
"Ramble ramble blah blah."
*She's so hot. Boobs!* "Sorry, what was that?"
"I said, what do you like to do?"
*Boobs! Am I looking at her eyes? I hope I am.* "Oh. You know. Not much."
"Hey! What are you looking at? My eyes are up here, you creep!"
"No! I'm not!" *boobs!* "I was just-" *boobs!* "Thinking!"
At this point, and not completely without merit, said girl tires of your eye-creepery and leaves you in the dust to imagine what will never, ever, be. This is common, believe it or not. Because the one thing us guys need to realize is that a lot of the time we are excessively nervous when talking to one of those gorgeous girls, so our eyes wander in the effort to avoid staring awkwardly. Unfortunately; if you look up, you look absent-minded and rather stupid. If you look off to the sides, you look like you're checking someone else out. And if you look down...well...lets just say that that's already covered in the snippet of horrifying conversation a few lines up.
And it is here that we find the Second commandment: Thou shalt talk to the face, not the body.
It sounds easy enough. But it's really not. Now I'm not dissing on guys. Nor am I one of those creepy dudes who are swayed by the feminine way of thinking. I just know how guys are prone to react in situations such as these. Sometimes it may be accidental, sometimes you may just be one of those terrifying leering dudes; and I will say if you are in the form of the latter, just stop reading. I don't cater to nut jobs with eye-lasers that seek out impressive boobage.
You just have to believe me that some things are just best not done. I understand that it's easy to get caught up in the situation and the wow factor of "There's no way this goddess of hotness should even be talking to me", but whatever the risk, you must maintain control of the eyes. Now granted, once in a while you'll run into the girl who is just all too thrilled that you're checking her out, however she'll rarely be the type that you want to bring home to the parents.
The fact is that for us guys...girls will always be an impenetrable enigma. And basically they may as well be Medusa because at times when nerves overcome us, it's nearly impossible to focus entirely on her face. So the eyes, well they just wander around in our effort to seize on something and we wind up standing on dangerous grounds.
The bottom line is that dealing with girls is always going to depend on tact, chivalry, and decency. The thing that separates the good guys from the everyday-ordinary jocks is that we refrain from the leering and creeping in the attempt of taking the higher road. Now, while it's true that the higher road will not give us the momentary "oooooooooh" factor that the leering crowd gets when they see a gorgeous body walking their way, we do gain the ability to TALK to this woman as we will not be looking at her as if we want to devour her.
For the record, this use of "DEVOUR" is not the good, romantic way. As anyone who has seen a guy watch a good-looking girl can attest to the fact that his leering is actually rather "Hannibal Lechter". I'll just come out and say it, in case you're a bit slow on the uptake: There is no way for you to hungrily watch a stunning girl while not looking absolutely frightening. Seriously. You just wind up looking like a starving man in line at Hardees, and no girl is ever going to want to be your curly fry.
Us of the higher road, however, as we talk to the face, can actually make this thing called "conversation". Our eyes will manage to resolutely maintain eye-contact (blinking is okay, as we want to avoid the scare factor) which will in turn not only show interest, but also an implied desire to hear more. This is something that no manner of boob-lasers will ever accomplish. You'll have to trust me on this. Or don't, and I promise to try to avoid smirking when I hear about you getting slapped in public.
Now I'm not saying it's always as easy as that. Because we all know that just striking up a conversation with a gorgeous girl and keeping a cool head is much more difficult than it sounds. But the upside is that it WON'T merit you a slap in the face, it WON'T gain you the label of "leering creep", and at the very least it WILL show that your life has more meaning than scaring women with your not-quite-subtle downward stare.
Sadly even the best of us will slip up. You needn't be horrified by this as even the most resolutely chivalrous can sway a little in the wind, but this is why you need to have a grasp on bouncing the eyes. Now. After typing that, I realize that it sounds rather...hmm, besides the point and creepy. But what I'm trying to say is that even the best of us may accidentally take "the glance", so even more important is whether or not we have the ability to sidestep the danger and move on.
I know, I make it sound simple. That's because it is. Now you may not believe me and think I'm making it appear much easier than it really is, but all you have to do is focus. NOT on the eye-arresting sight below the neckline of course, but on the conversation, her smile, her eyes...it's all there. All the tools you need to keep yourself above the level of "common creeper". You need only to put in the effort.
So now the rundown! When you've entered into a conversation with the girl in question, don't let yourself be easily swayed. Actually, if you're an amateur, it'd probably be even better if you didn't really look down at all. Trust me on that. As for those who aren't beginners: Don't leer, don't study the body (because they generally notice, whether you're trying to be sneaky or not), and do your absolute best to stay focused on the conversation (seriously, just listen guys). And if you do all this, you may soon find out how that can be just as interesting as the "Holy crap don't look!" zone.
So that wraps up the Second Commandment! Hang in there guys, it all gets easier. Well. No it doesn't. But I'm just going to lie so you don't panic. Don't worry, you'll thank me later.
Should time choose to damn me instead of side with me, I am putting words to page in the hopes that at least a few out there will remember me for who I was. Not who I was said to be, not the demon I was painted as, but as someone who wanted only to do the right thing. I'm no saint, nor am I the good Samaritan who would stop by the side of the road to help the starving beggar. No.I am neither of those things.
You see, at one point, I was a god. Not the God amongst gods, of course, but a soul promoted into the ranks of the Deity to oversee a small and sequestered little world by the name of Crypteria. I was a different person back then. I'd like to say that my sudden change in status from a stranger in the Afterlife to a promotion of Godhood did not affect my judgment, but as this is my attempt to set the record straight then I ought not lie.
Power. It can do horrible things. Either because the ones that don't possess it desire it so, or those that do possess it so rarely have the mental fortitude to do what is right by their gift. I don't know which of those you could classify me as, if either. I'm no longer one to shirk blame but I know all too well that my mindset changed upon my first few days as the god above Crypteria, my mind having been tainted by those whom I'd assumed would coach me and guide me into all that must be done.
A shiver runs down my spine even as I think about them. The Deadening. A simplistic name, don't you think? I thought so too. Enigmatic and eye-less, they walked as five through the halls of that which was to be my kingdom, and ever the fool I fell in-step behind them, trusting them to lead me true.
That would be my first among far too many mistakes, and if one is to look back at his life in search for the point at which his downfall became inevitable, I need look no further. And I, oh how foolish I truly was. They preached to me endlessly the codes they lived by and from that I drew my moral compass as to who I would damn and who I would let pass on to a greater life. I was a blind fool given a gun at a shooting gallery, and the Deadening used their will to point me wherever they saw fit.
At the time, I had no memory of who I had been in my past life. Whether murderer, sneak thief, or priest, it was all a mystery to me. Not that I complained. At the time I was so taken with the thought of being a God amongst men that I let my imagination weave its way out of control, and as my mind lost its focus- my dreams and sweet delusions of grandeur took over. I took a name that mocked the God of gods, thinking that by doing so I was elevating myself onto similar grounds, and until my reign ended I was to be addressed as none other than Gawd himself.
Looking back on those moments, I can't help but wonder how I didn't see the inevitable reckoning as it approached. For there is only so high you can get in any life before reality makes you take backseat as it takes control of the wheel. At that point, you are entirely at the mercy of those who have inserted themselves into your life and all there is left for you to do is hope that you did right by them.
Me.I used to think I did what I did to the best of my ability. I spend hours each day, drawing parallels from the beliefs of the Deadening to the souls in question and used that to form my decision on who would be Damned and who would be Saved. It was only too late that I began to see flaws in the proceedings; things that I should never have let pass and yet I had for all of the three years they had called me Gawd. It's enough to shake the strongest of souls, a realization such as that, and I was no different.
An epiphany is a powerful thing. It has the ability to drive us to either one of two extremes as it will push us towards greater heights in an effort to right the wrongs done, or force us into depression and ruin as we see with truthful eyes that which should have been apparent so long ago. As for me, I've never been one to wallow and I've never been one to take injustice lying down, but still I wish that I had seen these things sooner.
A great man once said that all of mankind was blind, that they see only that which they wish to see rather than what truly exists. I am living proof that statements such as those couldn't ring more true. I was so certain that I was in the right, that my status as a Deity was all the proof I needed to show that this was where I was supposed to be. How wrong I was. How foolish.
Mine was a mindset that was solid and blind in its understanding; and one that fell with a resounding crash from just a single blow. It was on that day, amidst happenings no different from any other, that their tower of lies came crumbling down around me and all that I had once possessed was lost in the rubble.
Had I known then the challenges and horrors that lay on the road ahead, I'd like to hope that the actions I took would remain the same. But that is something I cannot promise. For there are some things that simply cannot be prepared for, no matter how much constitution and will lies in the heart and mind of a man.
What matters is that I did what I thought was right. I turned my back on all teachings that had been shoved down my throat and did my best to take a stand in representation of those whom were wronged. Even now I flinch at the knowledge that the evil done was by my hands; The Deadening preached their word to me and soured my mind with lies.but in the end it was my hands that held the executioner's axe.
I go by several names. At one point I was known to an entire civilization as Gawd, and since then my names have been as plentiful as leaves in a woodland forest. But one remains resolute in my heart, and that is the name I was gifted with at the beginning of my life. Some will call me Gawd, some will curse me as Cadaver, but in the end there shall be but one name that I answer to.
I am Cadence Avery and, for better or for worse, this is my story.