Warnings and Notes: This story revolves around a suicide and contains many of my thoughts about the subject. In fact, I wrote it when I was experiencing a depressive-low. I'm sure I've noted it previously on this blog, but in case I haven't, I am (functionally) mentally ill. This is the kind of story that cannot be written by someone with a perfectly healthy mind. It also contains some graphically violent imagery. Potentially triggering, so I am giving fair caution.
I also play with the concept of reincarnation with this, which unlike the Heaven/Hell concepts also explored here, isn't one I'm intimately famliar with in regards to its use in actual religions (in other words, I know a little about Buddhism, Hinduism and other spiritualities, but not enough to "get it right" with thier concepts) - and I don't try. I play loose with the rebirth idea in the same manner as I do when I write my "Legend of Zelda" fan fictions in which I employ it, as in, it doesn't reflect anything but my own world. In this story, it's my world- my rules, so if I actually do, somehow, "get it right" - it's incidental. This is fiction - very fiction.
The Static-Lands Saga
Sen signed his name with a flourish on the last page of paperwork. Applying for a job had been lengthier. The lady he’d met earlier stepped into the room and asked him if he was ready.
“I got no next of kin,” Sen said.
“Surely you didn’t come to this city alone,” Dr. Dodge commented, “You look too young for that.”
“Ma died of the Shines and my dad came to one of these clinics. I listed friends who might claim me. Iffin’ they don’t, do what you want with me.”
“Good, we intend to,” Dodge said, “You may prove useful to our studies. You may even save lives.”
“Yeah, of the kinda folk you wanna live – not the kinda folk you don’t wanna die.”
“Precisely. I am surprised at how rational you are. Very few people come to us for the specific service in a rational state. You aren’t even shedding any tears, yet you seem to fully understand what we’re about to do. The physiology of your kind is identical to that of full human beings, aside from the obvious features.”
Sen followed the woman down a hall brightly lit from windows, another reminder that this country was not his own, even though he’d lived in it most of his life. Fortissimo, the principal city in the Land-of-Always-Day, had driven the young Ilkhan to his decision. It was a hard place to live for one of his kind – his many “kinds,” really. Had he grown up and lived day-to-day somewhere in the Land-of-Always-Night, perhaps he would have not decided to take the path he was following.
His hooves clacked upon the cold tile floor. Everything was excruciatingly white, like a typical medical building. This was not a typical medical building.
“We are going to be running an experiment during the procedure,” Dr. Dodge said, tucking a stray lock of red-blond hair back into her bun.
“What kind of experiment?” Sen asked, blowing a stray black hair out of his face, “Just came here for you to kill me, no frills.”
“We will be placing a device upon your head,” Dodge said coolly, “We will also inject a few medications into your system other than the standard ones. We are studying the various things that happen to the brain at the moment of death.”
“What kinda stuff will that do?” Sen asked curiously, slightly worried. The reason why he’d chosen to come to this clinic was because doing the deed himself would potentially leave him in a lot of pain. Fortissimo’s “passing clinics” promised a quick and painless passage.
“This will sound kooky, but… perceptions of afterlife,” Dodge explained.
“You’re a Valien. You ain’t supposed to believe in none of that stuff.”
“I don’t… and we don’t, but we’ve come to understand, in our profession, that many people seem to dream before they finally, fully die. It’s very interesting, actually, to hear the babbling of our clients. What is it that you believe, Mr. Sen?”
“The same stuff most of my people near the boarders believe – spirit-lands all the way from the Barrens to the
and all these ghostly points in between. I hear that suicides don’t get to the Celestial Forest . That’s okay. Even if I wind up in the Barrens, it’ll be okay with me, ‘cause I’ll no longer be a burden. I had a dream, not long ago – a vivid dream. In it, I’d died an’ was all laid out on the forest floor. I was watchin’ myself, like I was a ghost or somethin’. The scavengers came along – dogs and vultures and the like, eatin’ on me and bein’ full an’ happy. It was then that I realized my body was worth more to this world than my soul, mind, whatever you wanna call it ever was. Even if I go to that gray place, or even the cold black nothing your folk have in mind, it’ll be okay.” Celestial Forest
“We find that people have visions of either pleasure or horror, depending upon a number of factors,” Dodge said, “The nice visions that we catch rantings of would seem to resemble the after-land of one of our obsolete religions, a land called ‘Ciel.’ The unpleasant rantings would seem to resemble the opposite of that place in the old thought, ‘The Grand Prison.’ It doesn’t seem to make much of a difference were someone’s from or what they believed, although some of you Ilkhan rant about your superstitions, creatures coming to get you and so forth. In any case, it is all rather fascinating.”
“Does anyone say they just see nothing?”
“Sometimes. Sometimes, it’s just blackness coming to get them, like blacking out. We’ve studied that, too, and it’s what I expect to see when it comes my time.”
“I don’t suppose you’ll take a clinic.”
“I might if I get sick or become crippled – am no longer in the favor of Materia-Machina, as we say. I doubt I’ll ever come to one over poverty, but if it happens, that, too.”
“I never was able to make much money, hold a decent job. It’s ‘cause I’m an Ilkhan, but more than that, I guess. Some folks say that even some of my kind are in Machina’s favor, but I was never strong enough.”
Dodge nodded. “You are a rare one, you know, and quite brave for this. You understand your own lack of value and have chosen to sacrifice for the good of your society.”
“Bravey’s got nothin’ to do with it, lady,” Sen answered. “I’m pretty darn sure this may be the most cowardly thing I’ve ever done. A friend of mine said I should be brave an’ live just to spite the world, but I can’t. I just can’t bear up. He told me once about how his people see a pot that’s been broken and mended as being better than a new pot. Then I thought – pretty sure I said to him outright – ‘What happens when a pot’s been broken into so many shards an’ dust ya can’t fix it an’ it leaks no matter what ya do?’ He told me I missed the point, but I’m sure I’m just too broken. People here sweep up the broken pieces of a smashed pot and put them in the trash.”
“I know I don’t think like normal folk. It’s why I’m too broken, not worth fixin’. Best to be quick, stop wastin’ stuff that can go to others.”
Dodge opened a door and gestured to a lounge-type chair with leather belts on the arms and over the middle. It was covered in sheets that were severely stained, but looked like they had been washed and that attempts at bleaching had been made on them that ultimately failed. A steel tray on a stand with instruments stood beside the chair as well as a strange device that resembled a headband with small, thin nails lining it – if headbands were made of steel. Another doctor was there, a man. His hair and his coat were like the rest of the room – very white. Even his skin was quite pale.
“This is Dr. Fredricks,” Dodge introduced.
“What’s with the belts and all the sheets?” Sen asked.
“The belts will keep you still and keep you sliding to the floor as you go limp,” Dr. Fredricks answered. “The sheeting is because, well, when many people die, they leave quite a mess in terms of things relaxing. It is for our benefit, to make cleanup easier.”
“What happens after all that?” Sen wondered.
Dodge gave him a gentle nod, “We have a cold storage in the back.”
Sen shivered a little bit as he stared at the chair. Once he sat down in it, there was no going back. Did he really want to do this? Up came a feeling that he often had; this horrible feeling of needing escape – one of those impulses that lead him to imagining scratching his own skin off with his fingernails or any convenient sharp object. The last time he’d had that feeling, he’d torn up one of his arms with a sewing needle. He always felt so stupid for having these impulses and images. From what he’d learned from other people and society, normal people didn’t think thoughts like that. Instead of alleviating pain, actions like that only reminded him of how abnormal – and therefore inferior – he was.
The deer legs and antlers that differentiated him from “real-humans” had nothing on those feelings of having a sub-par mind. He walked over to the chair, sat down, laid his legs out and tried to get as comfortable as possible among the wadded sheets. “Just hurry up,” he said, closing his eyes.
The doctors strapped him in and he felt the strange sensation of metal placed over his forehead and temples, a careful fit over his antlers and behind his ears. He relaxed as something was injected into a vein and a warm sensation overcame him. He felt needles prick the skin of his scalp and the strange sharp sensation of electricity sparking against his sweat. He smelled both – not a burning aroma, but that indescribable odor peculiar to electrical activity.
“Measurin’ my brain?” he asked in a slur. He felt like his mouth was full of smooth stones.
“The study has begun,” Dr. Dodge said.
A burning, sharp pain shot through Sen’s entire body. His skin was stretching and pulling away from him. He looked down at his arms and his legs. The skin was coming off him of its own accord, as if he were being skinned by an invisible knife.
“What’s going on?” he yelped, panicking against the straps that held him firm. He watched helplessly as his legs became tight pinkish muscles and white cartilage stretched over the long bones, washed in deep red from the opened veins snaking throughout.
“You are experiencing the first stages of the Grand Prison,” Dr. Fredricks said calmly. Sen detected a hint of…glee?..in his voice.
“Why am I going somewhere I don’t even believe in? I ain’t heard of it ‘till today!”
“Because we’re manipulating your visions, dear,” Dr. Dodge explained. “The device we placed upon you is not for measuring, as we told you. We’ve gathered enough information from our studies. We have learned how to manipulate dying dreams. We can give you the ‘eternity’ we see fit – whatever we want, whatever we think you deserve.”
“Why?” Sen’s cry was cracked, weak and desperate, issuing forth from a throat too sore and a heart too frightened to be anything but a pathetic plea.
“Because we can,” she answered, “and because you believed in nonsense, because you were not strong enough to gain the favor of our Materia-Machina, and because you are of an inferior kind. You lived your life as a beast who did not know its place. You existed. You existed at all, that is why – but mostly, because we can.”
Dr. Dodge had metamorphosed into a horrific creature with gray, rotting flesh and yellow fingernails that resembled thick talons. Dr. Fredrick appeared to have turned into some kind of a reptile covered in bulging sores and puss that glistened over his scales. They both forced a pot to his mouth. It looked like it had been cracked and mended with grout. Sen felt an incredible lurching urge in his stomach and emptied its contents into the pot – only for it to be forced back into his mouth until he drank it down.
He closed his eyes tight and then opened them to find himself standing up in a misty gray void that darkened into a surrounding abyss of black. His skin was back on his body and the pain of having had it removed subsided. The taste of vomit, however, remained on his tongue as well as grit and squishy bits behind his back teeth. He gulped hard.
Invisible claws tore over his chest, his arms, his back. The young Ilkhan watched chunks of juicy flesh torn from him. He felt something bow his head and cut off his antlers. They clattered to the floor before him, cut clean as if by a spectral axe. This was the greatest shame for his people, or at least the tribe his family had come from. The antlers were the pride of an Ilkhan, especially for a young stag like him.
He felt an ache in his middle and looked down to find parts of him falling out. The organs still pulsed and worked. His nose was assaulted by a particular gutty smell – something that went beyond the smell of bodily wastes or the smell of blood, but was something of a slimy, gooey nature, as much as such things could have a scent. He had experienced the odor of an eviscerated animal before, and so he recognized it. Sen was surprised that he could remain standing and that he could concentrate on things such as scents, but such was the strangeness of whatever place he was in.
This wasn’t like the Barrens his parents had told him about. According to the myths of many of the tribes of Ilkhan on the borderlands of the Land-of-Always-Night and those that lived, as his family had, in the Land-of-Always-Day, some people went to an unpleasant place after death, a lonely, gray land. There were some tribes of Ilkhan that believed all went to a similar place, regardless of the deeds and the honor of a life lived. According to what his parents had told him when he was a child, those with good hearts received better – either ascension into the Celestial Forest, a place of peace and beauty beyond description, or a chance to get there, either though ghostly wanderings or rebirth into a chance to live a nobler life. People who went to the Barrens inflicted it upon themselves with their petty hearts, but it was not generally thought of as an inescapable place or as a place of profound and acute torture – only as a lonely land where a person might torture themselves if they did not find the way out.
If he was in the “Grand Prison,” it was decidedly a different thing. The pain was such that he didn’t even bother pondering whether or not he deserved it.
“Here!” A voice said out of the darkness. “Pull yourself together, boy, and walk this way.”
Sen’s ears perked in confusion. The voice did not sound like either of the doctors. It was a kind voice, almost playful. Not knowing what else to do, he began gathering what he could of his broken body into his hands and clutching it to his middle. He was surprised at the ebbing pain and at the fact that his torn flesh seemed to be mending itself. He stepped forward, through the mists and noticed that the weight of his antlers had returned to his head. He saw a pair of diamonds in the dark.
“That’s it,” the voice said, “Easy now. Calm yourself. You’re safe now.”
Sen, fully mended, dressed and out of pain squinted in the darkness. The darkness turned progressively grayer but never turned to light. It was a pleasant gloaming, like the twilight he’d seen once on a trip to the Gloaming Lands, or like the light of an overcast day.
The diamonds glittered, like twin white lights, sometimes shifting subtly into other colors, but always coming back to that clear white light, silvered at the edges. Out of the foggy air stepped a dog – medium-sized, black and shaggy. Its ears were floppy and its nose was long. It looked half-wet. Its eyes were never visible as eyes – they remained shining.
Sen smiled and knelt, offering his hand out to the animal. The dog did not approach him, but spoke; “I am not a pet,” it said.
“You spoke!” Sen exclaimed.
“Of course I did. Is it really unexpected? You know the legends of your folk.”
Sen stood up. “You are one of the Guides, then.”
“Do you remember which one was the dog?” the dog said, wagging his tail slightly.
“Reincarnation, I think.”
“But I was just in…. an’ figurin’ the way I died…Iffin’ I’m really, fully dead now?”
“Silly boy!” the dog barked, running to him and putting his paws on his thighs playfully. His tail wagged back and forth as if he were expecting Sen to throw a ball for him, then he sat back down and cocked his head. “You’ve got too soft a heart for the Barrens and not enough lingering resentment to become a ghost.”
“I was in a horrible place,” Sen said.
“I know,” the dog said compassionately. “It’s been overridden.”
“Your good heart is being protected. The cruel hearts cannot touch it any longer.”
“Where am I?”
“Between, but keep in mind, boy, this may be as much a function of your own mind as the other state was.”
“But I’m dead, right?”
“Maybe yes and maybe no. I would say that you are, but I may be a figment of your imagination, a function of your poor brain protecting itself after being put under terrible stress. Either way, what your ‘good’ doctors wished to do to you has been overridden.”
“So, I am seein’ the dog that guides folk to reincarnatin’, and you’re sayin’ you might be real and maybe not.”
“What do you know in your heart to be true of your life?”
“That I screwed up?”
“Everyone screws up. What is true about the end of your life, as you know it?”
“I went to the clinic an’ told ‘em to take my life. I didn’t want it anymore.”
“You did not expect to reach the
with that.” Celestial Forest
“I didn’t. Didn’t expect you, either.”
“I am here because you failed to learn a crucial lesson. I am here because you let the people who would destroy you win in the worst way possible. You conceded defeat and destroyed yourself. You may not have done it by your own hand, but you know you let the bastards win.”
Sen gaped, surprised at the language employed by what was supposed to be a spiritual guardian.
“Each of us are honest. The Lady of Chains and the Golden Stag are not much for conversation, but the Cat and I enjoy brutal honesty.”
“So, seein’ as I chose an exit, I gotta go back through this whole life thing all over again.”
“Yep,” the dog said as he stood, stretched and yawned. “I’ve no control over it except as a guide, but I suspect the next time will be easier on you. I do know that you will go to the past – that is, what you know to be the ‘past’ right now.”
“I’m bein’ sent through history? How, wha? Ain’t I supposed to live anew in the future? Thought it was the way it goes…”
“Time is not how you think of it,” the dog answered. “It has its own substance and patterns. You may have read the gravestone of yourself at some point in your life, or read a book written by yourself. Is that not an interesting possibility?”
“Definitely, but weird, weird, weird, weird. Lead on, I guess. I’m just glad to be away from the horror. The docs were runnin’ some kinda experiment on my brain… why would they put me through pain when they just want folk like me gone quick an’ clean?”
“Because you disagreed with them,” the dog said bluntly. “You were of a people who disagreed with theirs, or so they perceived. Some cannot stand not being right in everyone’s eyes. Others cannot stand the existence of people different than they are or that they otherwise do not approve of. Even when someone they have a distaste for is utterly powerless, human cruelty knows no bounds. For some, merely inflicting pain upon others brings joy – a sense of superiority, perhaps. I wish that you had kinder ‘passage-assisting’ doctors. Those two were just especially horrible.”
“They said something about the Grand Prison bein’ somethin’ people once believed in an’ don’t anymore.”
“Yes. The current people that dominate daylands wiped out all who held to that, and to the Ciel - that concept of that is not unlike the
. The people who believed in the Prison were of mixed opinions on it. Some thought people could escape it, like the way some think of the Barrens. Most thought it was forever, but most didn’t wish it on folks. Some did, don’t get me wrong – human cruelty knows no bounds. Most that believed in it sought to warn people away from it. Even some that believed it existed most ardently hated it, and saw it merely as a cruel fact they could not change.” Celestial Forest
“Seems like it woulda hurt a lotta people – even iffin’ it didn’t turn out the truth for them.”
“It is a painful concept.”
“What I don’t understand is – them doctors, they didn’t even believe in it! Thought it was nonsense, but the lady – she was in control….they… they wanted to try to send me to the Grand Prison though they didn’t believe it at all! Why’d someone wish a torture-chamber they think is bunk on someone they never met? Why’d they wish it on anyone?”
“That’s gotta be different than the folk who just believed in it and didn’t want folk to go! I mean, one kinda people’s gotta be outta their minds with fear an’ grief, but people like my doctors are… sick!”
“Well, when the wish is not a throwaway phrase or an idle threat, but capable of being implemented, yes.”
“They wanted me to die in pain…. All that blood and guts I thought I saw to be the last thing I felt and all I’d know.”
“Yes. A Grand Prison, implemented, made as ‘real’ as they can. I think your doctors Dodge and Fredricks would have been considered valuable to the Valien army during the purges and the wars, though Dodge is too young to have been a part of that time. Quite a lot of torture went on, though it was physical.”
“And I’m to be reborn into such a world.”
“Yes. All the living in the world must know cruelty, whether they are on the supply end or the receiving end of it. One must do what one can to live nobly.”
Sen walked with the dog through the mists. “Well, iffin’ this is real at all. Maybe I’ll walk here forever or only think I’m bein’ born somewhere’s somewhen’s when it’s all just me dyin,’ an’ nothin’ else.”
“You wouldn’t be able to process anything else if there was nothing to process, anyway.”
“I’m glad for the override, then. Thanks.”
“Know the good in your heart and try not to let the bastards win this time.”