At long last I slowed and stopped, dropping to my knees,
aghast to be now divested of all my preceding strength
I gazed upon a distant mass of swaying cindered trees
and felt upon my cheek the sweltering dusty ‘breeze’
which was doggedly pursuing me with its putrid stench
of incinerated flesh at those dissipated lives’ expense
Still kneeling, I readied in my mind a myriad of pleas,
seeking answers for evils as undoubtedly were these,
with which I may petition the fates evidently displeased
Soon animated by an anger as irrepressible as it was fierce,
I peered upwards, into the very heavens my scrutinizing pierced,
and roared my pleading questions to an empty, heedless sky
which answered my desperate litany with an ever silent reply
Delirious as I was, I didn’t expect any retort from providence;
still I hated its maddening hush, upheld even now, even here,
when all consciousness dwindles, lent no means to persevere,
when extinction eyes humanity as final token of its dominance,
when oblivion inches ever closer, to make our world disappear
In a hostile, lifeless universe our spawning was so anomalous,
and yet we earned a foothold, began forging all our monuments,
but now disaster struck, making mausoleums of each metropolis
Our end was like our beginning: of no cosmological consequence
I thusly understood the full horror of our species fading away
Our merciless desolation really permits no one to be blamed
as destiny made mere puppets of those responsible for this day,
for the exact moment of our departure was always preordained
Nature will seize and rot our corpses, a great debt to it we’ll repay,
and time will crumble all we’ve ever built with patient, slow decay;
all signs of our presence will be erased, Earth belatedly reclaimed,
it’ll be as if we never existed, or once been fashioned from its clay
This epiphany pained me more than all my wounds together
Not only will we be dead, but omitted from all of history forever
A drowsiness came over me and I let myself fall onto my back
Faintly aware of pooling blood, I saw my tourniquet was slack
I’d traveled far, seen so much and here ended my endeavour
I lay in a newly mushy film of ashes staring at the stars up high,
which twinkled as they always have and as they also always will,
thinking could I be the last of us this airborne filth has yet to kill?
Unbuckling my filter mask, I flung it away, heaving out a heavy sigh,
I knew it mattered not, as my end drew near and I had had my fill
and duly earned the right to the quiet surrender I must now abide
Breathing deeply of the noxious air, and stifling an unseemly cry,
I contemplated how nothing truly changes when I have finally died
It was an unmistakable forcefulness to the lights blinking out which signified the occurrence of a powerful and violent event. The bulbs didn’t flicker for a time and then fade, or even blink out instantly. They flared harshly brilliant for a fleeting moment, and then they unceremoniously died. With this, the room was yielded to a smothering dimness. Still, alarming as this otherwise might have been, it wasn’t that which frightened the little girl into growing insensible. It was fast approaching dusk but the final deluge of murky daylight streaming through the windows nonetheless lit the room well enough to see.
No, it was the sharply thunderous boom preceding the lighting’s failure which stunned Beryl into fearful paralysis. For some reason, it instantly flipped a switch inside her. A switch responsible for executing her psyche’s preferred defense mechanism in times of extreme stress: the deactivation of everything inessential and the preemptive withdrawal into the inner sanctum of her mind. The actual strength of the sound had diminished somewhat by the time it reached them, but it was still loud enough to convey an impression of its daunting closeness. Even being near enough to hear the distinctive report of an explosion is a chilling experience though, and rapidly induces the body’s natural responses to peril. There is perhaps nothing that can affect such quivering awe and aversion in a person as the awfully noisy byproduct of otherwise enduring things being forcibly undone. People intrinsically value structure and permanency; explosive force is their adversary. To blow up is to rob something of meaningful form, to inflict nullity, which is an especially abhorrent doom to human beings, the animal kingdom’s preeminent existential narcissists.
Oddly enough, to Beryl the philosophy behind her horrified reaction was unimportant; all she knew was that she was wracked with visceral, if inarticulable, dread. The detonation’s penetrating rumble had just finished reverberating when a palpable wave of faint vibration rippled across the room, causing her hairs to stand on end even more rigidly. Beryl, still immobilized, experienced this encroaching shock wave as a tingling sensation passing through her; it was like the shuddersome exhalation of an approaching spectre of doom.
Chapter 3 - Things begin as you’d expect…
I shall now tell you, as succinctly as is possible, the story of my early life and the events leading up to my current dire predicament in order to effectively preface exactly how I came to be in this miserable and hopeless situation.
Any historian reading this need not trouble themselves too overly with the archival of its every detail for posterity, as most are without merit in that circumstance, for the only important purpose they have is to aid in the comprehension of the matter at hand, namely my untimely death via divine assassination.
My birthplace was also where I would spend my formative years: the thoroughly mundane Egyptian port city of Damietta.
The only family I would ever know was my beloved mother. She was tirelessly compassionate towards me, but also always sternly protective of her only son. Raising me alone, she had to grow tougher, to harden, to be able to properly protect me. There was an astounding duality to her motherly character: she was so gentle and caring when it came to our bond, but she became a ferocious lioness whenever her cub was somehow endangered. I foolishly didn’t realise it as a child, but my mother toiled and sacrificed endlessly to provide a decent life for me. The deep furrows etched into her visage illustrated the struggle she endured daily to ensure our continued livelihood. She would have done anything for me, and she always put me before herself: her maternal protection provides an immeasurable debt of gratitude which I can’t ever hope to repay in full.
When I was very young she was employed as a seamstress performing trivially menial and uninspired work for little pay. Eventually though, she utilised what little money she had managed to accrue as savings and went about embracing larger ambitions in the hopes of benefiting us both. She opened her own small stall at the local market and began selling rather avant-garde clothing of her own fabrication. Initially this tailor-cum-merchant venture met with little success - her creations initially being simply too unconventional for the small-minded folk of the area - but she kept at it, spreading the word however possible that her creations were radically different from the plain, derivative and homogenous offerings which abounded the competing outlets. Soon enough, her efforts paid off and she managed to ignite a new fashion and to establish a largely uncontested niche by meticulously ensuring that her products were consistently either attractively vogue or so ahead of the trend as to have a wildly pioneering appeal. The quality of her work far exceeded comparative pieces from the market’s merchantry, and this earned their vocal ire and disdain.
For a short while, she even attained some measure of local prestige for the unrivaled selection of textiles she had secured via exclusive import contracts with some of the trade ships which frequently docked at the city’s port, and for her truly remarkable talent at the tailor’s craft. Her name was first at hand whenever visiting seamen sought such services and so a fresh stream of customers were regularly directed her way. Over the years many wives were overjoyed at being gifted clothing of her making from their returning husbands, and thus her name spread beyond our city’s dreadfully insular gossip. At the zenith of her popularity and acclaim, various influential socialites throughout the region were well known to wear her attire, honouring my mother’s craftsmanship in a way that I know brought her a great deal of joyful pride. She had began simply humbly seeking some sort of recognition for her talent, and having achieved that so thoroughly, it was obvious that she was immensely proud of her accomplishment, and I was certainly proud that my mother could be counted amongst the few successful female entrepreneurs that our city had fostered. Though it must be said that this distinction earned her equal parts begrudging admiration and venomous envy.
I learned a great deal from my mother. I learned how to stubbornly pursue an ambition, no matter how formidable the opposition you face is. I learned that one person could defeat even massive odds stacked against them with enough planning, determination and fortitude. The most important thing I learned from her though, was that if you want something, you have to seize any and all opportunities to make it your own. Something she told me once that stuck with me was that anyone can have anything they want in this world, they just have to be willing to sacrifice everything else in order to do so.
Chapter Two - An apologia. The reasons are totally irrelevant; let me tell you the reasons.
Having quelled the enormous tide of sorrow building in his chest, and empathetically dabbing at the wet splotches on the parchment with a rag torn from his shirt, hoping to erase the evidence of his momentary weakness from this last record, he sat up straighter, and clenched his teeth in grim determination. Thoughts of the boat being upturned in the next moment and this last ditch attempt at committing his life to paper being made moot caused a fiery, defiant anger to spread throughout his mind. He realised, to his vigorous revivification, that he had to increase his pace, lest all this be for naught; his words would be dissolved and expunged, and their noble purpose be annulled, by the great obliterating force that is the engulfing sea.
The very first thing you must understand is that the woman I appear to glorify in the puerile fashion of an adolescent doting on a classroom crush is entirely worthy of every manner of idolisation I can muster, and more. I have never encountered anyone even remotely like her before. She is spectacularly extraordinary in every sense of the word.
The very instance she entered my life, I experienced something truly wonderful. As if my mind had been clouded with a thick swirling mist of obfuscation and at first sight of her, her image blew through this wretched fog like a powerful gust and displaced it in its entirety. To relate this life-changing phenomenon to someone who has never been in love is practically impossible I’m afraid, but if you’ve felt what I felt, you will know precisely what I refer to.
She was a beacon of blindingly brilliant light. In her awesome glow, I saw clearly for the first time. I saw my life with eyes anew, and I now had my first truly honourable ambition in trying to make her mine forever more. Juxtaposed with this upright gallantry, I realised just how meaninglessly frivolous my life had been before. The brief meeting with her imbued me with such startling clarity, I almost didn’t know what to do with myself; I was paralysed by the salient transparency everything had now adopted. I saw the truth of the matter with unignorable acuity: mine was previously a severely depressing way of life indeed. In fact, I realised, to my aghast horror, that my life was really only rendered as a continuous stream by nature of its successional chain of interconnected disappointments and failures. In hindsight, the many missed opportunities which can be attributed to its short span weren’t so much missed as they were evaded or rejected. This epiphany gave me another gift too: I knew, with ashamed conviction, that my shortcomings were so often of my own manufacture, and to artificially limit oneself like this, for the purpose of a more comfortable existence, is a reprehensible deed to behold.
I assure you that I myself find excessive self-pity repugnantly undignified, though I regularly made its fetid bog my wallowing grounds once upon a time, and so you need not fear its embarrassing occurrence in this chronicle. You also need not worry that I might exaggerate or conceal what really happened. Let me tell you, when your fledgling grasp on mortal existence becomes so apparent that you can practically see the sands of times whiling away before your terrified gaze, the impression you present of yourself is no longer of any especial importance to you, only that you accurately portray your life and times, in vivid moral ugliness and all. What good is an epitaphic testimony composed of lies? No, if it deems me at all noteworthy and thus opts to gift me the honour of its remembrance, I would have history’s immortal record depict me as the man I genuinely was. I was flawed. I was foolish. I was brashly flesh and blood. So often, I was intent on living hedonistically, surviving at any cost, and accruing scars and regrets as if commemorations of emboldenment, and wearing cavalier irreverence as if a flagrant emblem signifying my character.
I owe any forthcoming annals, should I be deemed worthy of entry into them, a brazenly authentic account of my dealings, and though I intend to be as boldly candid as possible I do not relish retelling and detailing the many ugly things I have done. Respectively, in the eyes of the law, in the gaze of the heavens, and the collective opinion of society, I have repeatedly and unapologetically done things that are unlawful, sinful and immoral. Some of these misdeeds were at the imperative of survivalism, and I generally feel no remorse for those instances; though, in hindsight, and in the interest of full disclosure, many of the dangerous scenarios I found myself needing to escape from were, for all intents and purposes, voluntarily entered into, because the miscreancy and wrongdoing involved in such choices were performed of my own volition.
Although, and perhaps foolishly, my soul rests somewhat easier on consideration of the fact that I have never actually purposely or directly killed a man in the course of my nefarious affairs. However, I must admit that there were definitely points when I would have done so, had it been a requisite of my continued survival, or, during particularly dark periods in my travels, had great potential profit been even its sole incentive. That being said, I have injured, even maimed, a handful of other men, always in self-defense, though sometimes preemptively so. Yet, once again, the theatrics behind each such episode of necessary violence were generally produced or induced by either my haughtily swashbuckling ways or my arrogant disregard for caution when I found myself in dangerous places among equally dangerous people.
Also, I have stolen from a truly countless multitude of my fellow countrymen and peers, and practically every single time having done so without reluctance beforehand or guilt afterwards. You might think that this apathy was simply due to me systematically suppressing the inherent feelings of contrition and remorse, but the truth is that there was actually no such emotional response for me to have to do so. I considered such offenses to be trivial infringements upon the liberty of others and so spared the consequences or moral repercussions no thought. This selective sociopathy proved mightily convenient in my criminal endeavours.
Beyond these transgressions, I have also committed a great many other offenses against my fellow man: I’ve deceived them, cheated them, betrayed them, et cetera. Out of some misplaced sense of honour, where possible, I consciously attempted to limit the targets of my roguery to those engaging in it themselves. Whilst this uniformly elicited a satisfying feeling of twisted righteousness, this unorthodox form of ethical recompense or atonement was a rarely enjoyed gratification as the majority of those I disadvantaged with my misdeeds were common folk. I would add though, maybe due to unwarranted pride, that I have always strived to adhere to an unwritten, indeed nebulously defined, personal code of conduct, the boundaries of which are not so easy to definitively identify but they have at least prevented me from ever inflicting serious misfortune or hardship upon the old, the infirm, and of course, children. Yet, I think that if I am to eventually be judged by a higher power, these weak conscientious scruples shall not be weighed too heavily as a token of redemption.
Whatever rationalizations I offer will invariably, and probably rightfully, seem as though childish excuses meant to exculpate myself of blame but I assure you that they are nothing of the sort, for they are merely intended as an elucidation of my motivations. Let it be said that I fully embrace my rightful accountability for an immoral existence forged by malevolence and mischief.
Nevertheless, my justifications and admissions of blameworthiness are largely unimportant to the story itself, and shall be saved, I think, for a far more severe and prejudiced adjudicator than you my friend.
Chapter One - The clarity and humility of predeath epistolary storytelling.
The flurry of rapid, staccato movements threw the illuminated dust motes orbiting the candle’s flickering, blinking flame into whirling eddies. So intent was his frenzied concentration however, that this peculiar phenomenon entirely escaped even the most minute diversion of attention. In the softly vivid and fluttering glow, the quill’s ragged feather deftly danced between the light and the shadows at the fevered behest of his mad scribbling. Having endured an unfortunately prolonged period of disuse and storage, its paltry plume had become sullied with soot and it speckled the unravelled scroll of coarse parchment with little dark blemishes when it shook and quivered during its rhythmic swaying.
A grubby ink bottle sat besides him, its label yellowed and curled, surrounded by a small pool of overflow from where his hurried dipping of the nib had unintentionally decanted some of the viscous liquid. Furthermore, the deck’s constant tilting and shifting every which way had induced the ink to duly flow away from its source in outwardly probing streams, and this produced the impression of a myriad of little miry tendrils venturing towards most every direction. As the bizarre formation slowly coagulated it began to resemble the black silhouette of a star peering past and around the pot with its inky sunbeams - until this composition was violently dissolved by a falling teardrop. Still, though this otherwise bothersome waste of ink initially evoked an instinctual pang of disconcertedness, it thereafter went flagrantly unheeded nonetheless. Usually, he would have expended great care so to preserve this precious amenity as his personal stockpile was painfully meagre and alternatives were particularly difficult to come by at sea. Yet, on this day, in this final desperate hour, his vehement focus was directed solely at what he was writing.
Still, what he was actually committing to that tautly stretched parchment bore only decidedly scant attempts at the expectantly utilitarian succinctness, for he could not rebuff the intrinsic urge of the dramatist’s embellishment, not even now - especially not now. He was certainly well aware of the overbearing urgency of his task, but also that it would likely be his last living act and his final opportunity to leave some sort of enduring mark on the world. If this writing was to be his concluding contribution to the humanity, he had quite a marked intention to ensure that it was very much deserving of more than mere relegation to the dustily unperturbed footnotes of history’s grand annals.
And so, what he was animatedly, carelessly scribing, with the intensity of a man knowingly hounded by death’s miserable and relentless trailing, was not simply an explanation or a goodbye, it was a means by which he would transmute his life, which would soon be banished to oblivion in its current form, into something that wouldn’t die: the grandiose immortality of the written word. The profound seriousness of this undertaking was definitely not lost on him, and it weighed very heavily on his already overtaxed mind as he set about attempting to derive his mortal essence into the words he hurriedly and erratically scrawled.
What he wrote was as follows:
There has been steely resolve and herculean exertion, and, despite this, there was subsequently still unmistakable glimmers of grand disappointment. There are deliciously cyberpunk esque experimental adventures. There will be redoubled efforts and an unwaveringly fixed gaze towards the delightfully impossible end goal.
In the meanwhile though, I’m absorbingly eager to get back to writing. Really get back to it. To be subsumed and consumed by it in equal measure. Fully. Wholly. Insanely. However, there are still some troublesome anchors which weigh on my mind a great deal whenever I try to start something new. Perhaps the most pertinent such burden is the various works I haven’t published anywhere, that have languished unattended and unexhibited. So I have been, and will continue (as best as is possible), to finally post such things - so to free up my increasingly beleaguered mind for future projects. And believe me: I have ideas.
The piece I intend to post next is my current magnum opus, and it has been gestating for a decidedly long time. Do things like this improve with age? Perhaps. Regardless, this
work in progress ‘unfinished’ (surprising nobody) piece of writing has been party to staccato visitations from my concerted attention for quite some time, and so it has, in some ways, captured a snapshot of my creative mind at various times. The ghosts of my past selfs rattle their awful chains as they drift to-and-fro within these words.
Hounds bay impatiently and ravenously somewhere close, somewhere unseen. A gargantuan leviathan winks awake beneath the waves and indignantly observes that its mighty kingdom is no more. The storied stone colossus senses a great horn bleating its mournful song, calling for his return, and begins treading with grandiose authority towards the horizon.
Something wicked this way comes…
[This is a redux version of a short story I wrote some time ago. The additions and improvements aren’t overtly colossal, but they are really quite significant in how they change the reader’s understanding of the protagonist, and so I feel that they tangibly improve it a great deal overall.]
Bang, the rifle fires, and with a resentful forcefulness its butt violently shudders backwards into his tensed shoulder.
Clink, the bolt is stiffly yanked back, which ejects the spent casing from the breach, and it wildly spins into a descent toward the floor.
Somewhere inside the weapon, the firing pin is cocked.
Dink, the casing ricochets off the floor and rolls around.
Click, the bolt is pushed forward firmly and it locks in place with a satisfying snap.
A new round is automatically stripped from the magazine and then chambered in the breach
He performs this routine without thinking. Jerking about with such deliberate, efficient motions, he mechanically carries out the sequence in barely a second’s span, demonstrating supremely well practiced precision.
Patiently watching the telling aftermath of his kill, he silently mused ‘Hmm, a couple deliberately wide potshots to spur his confidence and daring, to entice him into poking his head out of cover and he doesn’t disappoint. He stuck his head out so tauntingly, so foolishly. The more experienced of these German bastards are so brash and arrogant. The gung-ho Americans are just as bad of course: they also have a marked tendency to needlessly dice with death at the whim of their egos.’
The shot had wrought open an unsightly hole in the soldier’s helmet and, entering through the forehead, his head. Immediately afterward, the unexpected impact had awkwardly spun him around, spraying blood and gore in a spiral as he fell. The body had crumpled to the ground, tangled and pathetic. A long moment then passed as his comrades exchanged shocked glances and drank in the full horror of the situation. Finally they unceremoniously reached out and dragged the corpse back behind their cover. Dejectedly slumping down beside it, the panicked yelling of expletives began in earnest.
Neglecting to even pull his eye away from the rifle’s scope, he groped at his belt and unsheathed his blade, then he disinterestedly scrawled another line on the tally: a diligently maintained running count scratched into the wooden windowsill ledge that the rifle’s stock was resting on.