Infernaut: an autothanatography - part one

You've seen your share,
So now close your eyes
And why be afraid?
Why call such silly robed men by your side?
For the eyes that do not see,
The hands that do not touch,
The heart that does not feel,
And the memories that are no longer remembered,
Cannot possibly hurt you anymore


A Moment on Earth

A boy stands by the window of his house, gazing out over the green, blue and red of the earth left streaking before his eyes like the wild strokes of a demented painter. He touches the window. It feels cold. With the tips of his fingers he brushes over the tiny residual drops of white paint along the edges of the glass – the ossified leftovers from a careless paint job. The tiny islets of misplaced aesthetics feel like havens of variability in a sea of otherwise icy continuity. He runs the tips of his nails along the flat diaphanous surface and he feels soothed by the lack of friction, until the absence of resistance leaves him feeling unsatisfied and nervous. He looks down at the fly wriggling between his fingers. He feels its little legs brushing against his fingertips. He feels a tiny microcosm of commotion, fear, desperation and struggle that means nothing to him, and is all the more intrigued precisely because such suffering could mean nothing to him. He feels disgust because he feels pity for its weakness and its vulnerability. He feels a cold current flow through a minuscule crack in the window pane and he shudders before making his way to the stove. He ignites the stove plate and he waits for it to heat up, rarely taking his eyes from the small depression at its center. He notices the fly's sudden inactivity. This also leaves him unsatisfied. When the stove is finally hot enough, he holds the fly above it and brings it closer and closer to its surface as the creature resumes its frantic activity upon feeling the unbearable heat drawing nearer and nearer. With a feeling of dread, malice, and power, he drops the fly into the scorching depression and watches with captivation as the squirming, writhing insect dies rapidly – but not instantly – in agony within the searing pit he has prepared for it. He watches on as the body withers, shrinks, chars and disintegrates into an incongruous tiny lump of carbon dust. He bends over and looks at it for a few moments and then he blows the remains into the invisibly tiny, chaotic universe that lies beyond his eyes, and beyond all eyes. For the first time – for that one infinitesimal moment when the carbonized dust blew away into nothingness – the boy saw the threshold. It was the first time that he understood he was alive.

1. The Fall

I, who was once fated by my charms and flowing locks
To wrench the gold from the gods of youth
And reap the smiles from the mouths of babes,
I now writhe in the bowels of molten earth
And live only in the memory of a kiss.

A heartbeat reverberates around my head in echoes that shatter the otherwise deathly silence that has consumed me. Wump-wump, wump-wump, wump-wump… now dying, now fading, the rhythmic beat of life now abandoning me. Not even my heavy breathing, nor the wheezing and whirring of my contracting throat and failing lungs, can break the predatory silence that now only has ears for my heart. I lie face to face with myself, feeling like a cannibal peering into the eyes of a victim who gazes back into the eyes of a killer, ready to consume myself, ready to devour myself. Wump-wump… wump-wump … wump… wump… wump. First my eyes fail, then my hearing, and I am finally devoured by the emptiness. The face that was that of both victim and killer – my face – is now all that remains, suspended before my eyes, as if in a dark mirror. And I am left alone – completely and perfectly alone. No shapes, no form, no pain, no emotion, no space, no time. I am not.

In the faint far distance, in the far reaches of what I used to be, I still hear the fading echoes of my heart pushing the last trickle of blood through my moribund body, already shrinking under the weight of death’s vice-like grip. I can hear things I never could have before. I can hear every single dying cell in my body. I feel like I reside in every corpuscle, every molecule, every atom. I feel for the first time - and not without a sense of irony - that I am my body, even now that I am no longer a part of it, even now that I am losing it. I hear my bones disintegrating and crumpling as the decay sets in. I was surprised how quickly, how voraciously the decay set in. I hear skin contracting, arteries hardening, veins tensing, muscles shrinking, body rotting. I hear new life already feeding off my corpse. Every microbe was a vulture ripping out my heart, every microscopic predator was a pack of wild dogs tearing at my flesh. I heard the ghost of my mind offering one last ode to all it once knew and everything it was once a part of. Even if there were voices or sounds around that body, I could not hear them. I was only aware of what was left within. I felt one last violent shudder and then a sudden deafening whoosh, a terrifying plunge... and then nothing.

No shapes, no form. No pain, no emotion. No space, no time. I am not.

In this barren void, consciousness persists. And for the guilty mind it persists at the expense of conscience, as if to spite the conscience. At that moment my eyes are all eyes, my consciousness is all consciousness, what is left of me feels like it is omnipresent. I see the universe in an atom; I traverse the length of an eon within the span of a millisecond; I see a rock smash the skull of an ape; I see armies clash in a red and golden haze on a barren, windswept plain; I stumble upon the purple, poisoned face of an ecclesiast drowning in a silver chalice; I see the remains of slaughtered children, with twisted faces and glazed eyes that have lost the light of life without even having found the grace of death. I see gaping wounds left festering under a scorching sun in some distant stretch of god-forsaken earth. My hands (I suddenly find I have hands) are covered in blood and dirt. On my tongue (I find I have a tongue) lingers a bitter taste, warm, rusty and rotten. In my mind I carry stones, heavy and languid, crushing my neck, leaving me spineless and incapable of movement. I hear curses screaming at me in unison, and I descry the faces of other dead and un-dead men. And I fancy that I am one of them. I see no Hades-bound Ajax or Achilles, I am no Odysseus or Aeneas; there are no mythical heroes to greet me here, just twisted and deformed cripples. I fancy that they are all like me – that they all are me – yet they have no features, no eyes, no nose, no hair, no mouths, just empty faces - lost, mute, blind, wandering. I look back down at my hands and find the blood trickling from my fingertips and on to the soil beneath me - the soil of a sticky, fetid earth swarming with the remains of rotten human memories, giant swollen memories of a whole race writhing upon the history of mankind like maggots swarming over the decapitated head of a pig.

No shapes, no form. No pain, no emotion. No space, no time. I was not.

Another deafening whoosh gripped me and then flung me into a gut-wrenching eddy that sank me into the bowels of my unbeing. An invisible hand with steely, sharp claws had clutched my neck and was drawing me down into oblivion. I felt wrinkled skin brush against me as I plummeted down the ghastly drop. I felt putrid meat crush me all over as I hurtled through an increasingly humid and clammy infernosphere. It was like the inside of a body, the entrails and viscera of my very own body. The fleshy chute seemed endless. Every horrific contact prolonged itself on my skin like a lingering pestilence. Steely hair ripped through my skin, rotten teeth gnawed at my bones, and black nails tore through my flesh. And despite it all, it was the sense of suffocation that tortured me the most. It was a silent scream that arose in my chest and remained trapped there. I was unable to find the air that would finally expel it, that would finally expel me. I felt I was both the one trapped in my own festering throat and the one whose throat contracted upon me.

Finally, overcome with nausea, the gory chute squeezed me out and I landed in a room, bloody and unctuous. The room had a purple glow and there was no door, just black velvet drapes all along the walls, as if to conceal some rancid secret. The air was humid and stuffy, the wall-to-wall carpet was blood-red and blood-thick. From behind the velvet drapes, hideous and deformed creatures swarmed upon me, cackling like hyenas. Pus-ridden cunts pressed against my cracked lips while old oily-fingered whores defecated into each others’ mouths and into mine, there, in the middle of this room. A wet, fat, shiny-lipped orgy of banshees sprang blood-doused saliva, stale cum and sweat against the four walls of this den of filth, vomit oozing between my fingers, oviparous and worm-infested tongues probing my mouth and laying the vile vermicular ova of all that had died in them, and rot in them, and churned forever in them, that had forsaken and forgotten them. Each of these monsters had a dream-like resemblance to people I once knew, and like the dream figures, the faces flitted and changed, assembled and dissembled, like grotesque, mutilated corpses that once bore a face and a soul behind once cogent features. One by one they slid upon me like snakes and they subjected me to the horrors that they themselves were the embodiment of. I could hear the sound of wet copulation, of hideous groans of inhuman lasciviousness, of a lustful lubricity that ate and consumed all that aroused it, like an autocannibalistic orgy. And when I slid away from this massive pile of filth, I saw the form of a giant serpent that was as if one writhing voracious beast, yet composed of these hundreds of lost and withering souls that were its entrails, its skin, its mind and its muscles all at once, like an evil, polymorphous leviathan.

And as my head began to spin, the horrific purple room sped and spun away from me and I was sent again into a spiral of infernal descent.

No shapes, no form. No pain, no emotion. No space, no time. I was not.

And the swirl continued beyond the scope and explanation of time. It could have been a moment or an eternity, but it was not something that could be described or measured in lengths, only in volume. And then nothing moved. All was static, frozen before my eyes. I sensed that Death stood motionless before me and it didn’t move. It had no form, it only had a presence, an oppressive, stultifying, tyrannical presence crushing down upon every inch of my mind (and no longer upon my body), bearing the sins and tortures and miseries of an eternity of toil spent reaping the harvest of ghosts amid all the evil it had let loose upon every field trodden under the foot of the earth’s forsaken race of men. On those fields the prodigal sons still ambulate in a listless daze. The fallen heroes crouch and stare agog, mouths agape, like famished birds of prey awaiting the death that would curb their insatiable hunger, forever craving and ingurgitating the blood and flesh that would never satisfy or sate them. On those fields crooked crosses made of rotting wood await with lust the penetration of the nail that draws the blood of its sinners into the splintering body of its unhallowed frame. Its victims groan and writhe in a seemingly endless torment. Crimson sky spits vermilion bile and the horizon stretches further than I have ever seen; red, thundering horizon, swirling red clouds, stench-infested winds, stretching away with its agoraphobic disembrace. Geysers of fire and flame spit menacingly forth from every crack in this sullen landscape - the sound of a thousand pores spitting evil unto its own profane face. On those fields I wander now; a disembodied conscience, a formless fate. And I might have wandered for a thousand years in that state; but as I have said, length is not measurable here, only the volume and the weight of time can be perceived. And it seemed a heavy, crushing, weighty chunk of time that delineated my inexistence in this hell – for Hell this was; it could not be any other realm. It stretched now before me like the geography of my own conscience, like the map of my own soul.

And as if only a millisecond had passed (though I cannot tell, but it felt light and ethereal), I came upon a unique structure in the wretched landscape: a well. I walked toward it like a pusillanimous animal. I extended myself to look into it. I saw a face reflected in the water, one of a ghastly collection of faded memories swimming – some drowning – on the dark, rippling, melancholy surface, like a carnival of dread. The landscape around me was superceded by a dark calm. The heat dissipated, the noxious smell withered and neutralized, the omnipresent crimson glow faded like an infernal sunset. I stared at the body of water like a crippled Narcissus.

The twisted procession was underway.

2. The Procession of Lost Souls

The ebb and swell of forsaken faces
Fill the recess of the well of memories
Where, once lost within our mad will,
Only perdition can sate our hungry guests

And lest we speak of amulets and talismans
Let us not ward these ghosts away,
For beneath their hollow, paper-thin guise
Demons conspire with the gods
To make dire evil once again sublime

The well stood before me like a gaping wound gashed into my psyche. One by one, the faces rippled and streamed into the dark chasm, forming into incoherent though recognizable shapes; shapes with features at once illogical, perverse, diabolical, familiar and nostalgic.

First came not faces at all, but shapes and forms that tormented me with their endless juxtaposition of perspective, relentlessly reproducing a dizzying sense of being overwhelmed and forever out of proportion with my surroundings: sometimes oppressed, sometimes insignificant, always estranged and chronically out of synch. This almost ineffable sensation was exacerbated by lackluster colors, shades of beige and gray, as well as by the ever shifting points that seemed to have the effect of pins and needles made visible and also sensible. It was beyond the sensation of falling. It was the sensation of having fallen and still seeing everything speed away from me to become massive, titanic entities and forms that oppressed me with their size and weight. Then no sooner had this occurred, the forms would suddenly swarm around me, closing in on me so near and so tight that I myself now became a grotesquely oppressive presence that engulfed everything else, and I could see every infinitesimal atom that made up every point, every nexus, every locus of this madness. And so back and forth it went with this insane juxtaposition of perspective. It was the combined feeling of vertigo and claustrophobia. I remembered vaguely how this recurring vision had haunted me as a child. Every night I experienced this perpetual feeling of being crushed under the weight of overpowering forces followed by that of being abandoned by insignificant ones, each sickly experience struggling to unseat the other just so it could maintain its nauseous hold on me in a balancing game of dread.

The well darkened, as if obeying a howling that had preceded it. The howling actually resembled the sound of a locomotive. Then the well lit up and before my eyes there appeared a room with walls of pink. It was bathed in the light of a glorious summer sun that inundated the room through a large window from which could be seen the most beautiful garden that could be imagined, vibrant and alive with vivid colors carried into the room by the sun’s luscious rays, warming me to my very bones. It was a welcome feeling, and a feeling made all the more welcome upon finding my whole first-grade elementary class walking in line through this sublime landscape, double file, following my teacher. There was my plump friend whom I loved to play tricks on, particularly pulling his seat from under him so as to watch his cheeks shake as he hit the floor. There was the cute girl with freckles who always declared her love for someone different every day. There was the boy who would hold his pencil with the tips of all four fingers and thumb and who had a mole the shape of a dark teardrop frozen on his face. There was the child whose antics I would try and emulate only to always find myself in trouble with my teacher. There they walked gaily under the summer sun in that children’s Eden as I watched on with joy filling every inch of my heart, hoping to catch their attention so that I could be with them, waving frantically at each and every one of them as they passed by. But not one of them saw me. They carried on in that carefree children’s banter that had no significance, no meaning, nothing substantial other than the joy in being alive. I felt a growing sense of anxiety swelling up in my chest and threatening to strangle me as I now tapped the glass, and then started to pound it with my fists, all to no avail. No sound emanated from the room, my whole class walked past me and away from me as I screamed and kicked at the glass. And as the terror swelled up in me and seized me with absolute fear, loneliness and helplessness, the sound of the locomotive now grew louder and louder. I turned to look over my shoulder and could see a cupboard. From this cupboard the sound of the locomotive grew into a thundering roar as I squirmed in the corner. The window had vanished, light had fled, there was only a cowering boy screaming in the dark as he waited to be swallowed by what lay beyond the cupboard.

I opened my eyes and found myself lying in a bed, alone in a room, shivering. Before me there appeared the pale, ghostly figure of every woman I had laid my hands upon – except one. Every one of them looked straight into my eyes as their ashen figures stood adroit, never wavering, never so much as twitching. The ghastly ensemble of savage and cold gazes pierced my skull with their intensity. Their eyes were like steel swords emanating from an icy wilderness within me, penetrating not through my skin or even my eyes, but from my own heart – from within. I reached out but couldn’t extend far enough. My shivering now surged into a convulsion as each face stared through me with a look of rabid death. Insanity gripped me, panic incapacitated me, and the faces of these phantoms lay fixated, their eyes large and black, their hair hanging decrepitly over their dead skin, their white robes draped over degenerated bodies of disease and decay, with bony fingers and perforated souls. Loneliness and despair seized me, and the faces retracted into the night, as stealthily as they had appeared. I lay alone once more.

Darkness – then descent. My stomach rose, the blood gushed into my skull, my eyes rolled back, and I fell into the chasm that expanded below me, deeper and deeper. And faces accompanied me in my downward plunge. My mother reached out and tried to grab me but she couldn’t keep up with me, she shouted out and I reached back. Darkness. My father rose from below and I fell through his arms. Brutus plunged a dagger into my heart, Caligula ripped open my stomach and smeared my blood across his smacking lips, already wet with gristle and vomit. Horatio spoke to me of heaven and earth, and Iago tempted me to murder and mutilate my own beloved. Of the muses I could see Erato, the bitch of lies, and of my past loves there arose the serpentine face of Medusa, and it struck me cold like stone.

Down, down…

“And what would you have us believe, young scamp? That your fate would hold the universe in balance, that time would wait for you, that the heavenly orbits obsequy to your plight? In the depths of your despair lie the true tests of self-deception and enlightenment - and the answers are all one and the same.”

Down, down…

Ravenous hunger eats into my bowels and plucks my eyes from my guts. Gluttonous demons and voracious incubi clamor out of my chest and shackle me with their avarice. Now blare the trumpets that guarded Valhalla, there lie the wolves of Ergenekon, she-wolf suckling monsters bespeak the Gog and Magog and the infamous lash of god unleashes the hideous Hunnish horde. The hosts of earth deal their guests the final blow and the four horsemen ride out from the high, wooden walls of Troy. The apotheosis of pain is complete, the demon has shape and form, the name of the beast is inscribed in the fate of its victim, the horn now protrudes from the skull.

Down, down…

The headache intensifies.

Down, down… Stop. Suspend. Turn. The Styx.

Incipit Charon, father of Heraclitus…

“Mortal man, you can never drown in the same river twice…”

Exeunt Ego.

The river uncoils deep into the chasms of my youth and age, and our father waits with open arms behind every rock, but never appears. The tiny hands that grip the thumb for the first time… these are the only witnesses of history, and the only inscribers of fate.

Down, down...

The river sways, bends and folds, following the path of the tiny lines in my skin, whirling in the miniscule grooves of my fingertips; the river follows the course of my body on which has been inscribed the fate of all mankind.

Down, down...

The river is deep, deeper than time; and the river is wide, wider than our minds.

Down, down...

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily… life really was but a dream.

A Moment on Earth

The boy dabbed the tip of his nose into the ice-cream and then made a face that caused the girl to giggle. They didn’t say anything. They just went on contentedly eating their ice-cream. Their eyes fell on the ice-cream before and after every lick and every bite, and then their eyes looked around them, enchanted by the dull indifference of the mid-day light. Sometimes their eyes caught each other and smiled at each other even though both were still concentrating on the ice-cream. Their gaze lingered for a while on a small stream of water that trickled down the road, gleaming, sparkling, rippling under the sunlight, passing in front of the curb where they were sitting. The voluptuous sunlight warmed them to the bones. In the distance they could hear the faint clamor of other children playing, screaming, laughing, running in a playground, on another street. For a while neither of them moved; the sounds, the light, the warmth, the timelessness, it all left them mesmerized in the indolence of the day. They finished their ice-cream and started walking up the steep road. The road was lined with two storey houses that had pretty gardens with all manner of flowers that only grown-ups knew the names of, with big bushes and tall trees, with colors that were a concoction of greens and blues and reds, and even some colors which they had no idea what they were and only ever saw at that time of day. The girl pushed the boy into one of the bushes while the boy was trying to reach in to grab something he saw, and then the boy chased the girl until he caught her and she screamed and he wrapped his arms around her and squeezed her with a malicious laugh and she shouted for help. One of the residents of the houses looked at them frowningly and then went back in. The boy let go and this time the girl chased him, and when she caught up with him she punched him and kicked him with vengeful glee. He asked her what she liked most in the world. She said she liked cherries. They held hands to cross the big avenue and reach the store on the other side and spent the last of their pocket money on big, shiny, red cherries. They ate them on the curb, smiling the whole time, enjoying the taste that seemed to explode in their mouths with every bite.

In the evening they walked to the girl’s place where her mother was calling her in. He saw the lights inside the house and the shapes it outlined, hidden mysteriously behind peach-colored curtains. She kissed him on the cheek before she left him. It was the first time a girl had ever kissed him. He watched her run in, tripping once and nearly falling over, looking back at him and laughing, and then disappearing into the big stone building with a reckless wave of her arm. She and her family were leaving for the summer holidays the next day.

He and his family had long since moved, but it was only 23 years later, on a day much like that day, lost in the reverie of a midsummer’s daydream, that he realized that was the last time he had ever seen her.

3. Encounter with a Kindred Spirit

Dreams once wove the history of men,
And our lives are but dreams remembered again

The river dried. The waters of the Styx gave way to a hot, red sea of sand over which the ferry glided effortlessly as it parted its way through. The ferry slowly melted into the sand as I found myself standing on a road that stretched out toward the horizon. The gaseous stench and the filthy heat rose up and drowned my senses. The only variation in this wasteland was the road of gravel and stones I was standing on, red and easily discernible in the otherwise lunar topography of misery that unfolded around me without end. I stood there and looked ahead as if expecting a fellow traveler, something to relate to, anything to mitigate the desperate loneliness that devoured me like a vulture devouring the liver of Prometheus – and I, this rotten liver, kept reforming like an indestructible cancer to witness my endless undying torment. There I stood, wind howling through me, staring out at the road that lurched in front of me. I stood not knowing whether to proceed. Behind me lay the great sandy wasteland that flowed on from the Styx; before me, the long road to oblivion.

There appeared a flicker of movement in the distance. The flicker gradually took on a form and I could make out a figure, albeit a strange figure, not discernibly human, not discernibly anything - at least nothing familiar. It was like a massive pile of flesh, though it had a rough symmetry to it that lent it a semi-human form. As it drew closer I could see that its movements were impelled by languid limbs that slowly pulled this hulk of meat along the ground. The creature had two heads, one of which had a giant gaping hole in it that was missing a brain. Its eyes were small, beady and dead. The other head had the same eyes, but there was life in them. Its head was intact. The rest of the body was one large bulk of horror. The skin was leprous and brittle, seeming to have lost the sense of touch, and the spine protruded from its back, like a Devil’s Spine. The legs were useless, mere boneless pieces of flesh being dragged along the ground, but the arms were strong and muscular and had long nails that dug into the acrid soil and drew this monstrosity along.

Upon its approach I felt squeamish. But I also saw for the first time in my infernal journey some kernel of engaging intelligence in the eyes of this monster - in its good head, as it were. No glazed, otherworldly stare that looked through me rather than at me; different from the vacant gaze of the ghosts and phantoms I had encountered thus far. This was the look of a creature that was aware of me. As the monster approached, our eyes were inevitably fixed upon each other. It had strange eyes, dark and round, small and beady, as if they were the eyes of a bird – or more specifically, of a peacock. And then with a final heave and a deep, sickly groan, the monster came to a halt. It stood before me in the middle of the road. My heart was filled with a mix of curiosity and dread, as well as the weight of a now constant despair that never lifted nor lightened its burden since the beginning of my journey. I was anxious to alleviate the sense of forlorn loneliness that haunted me all this time, even if it meant talking to this beast. And the beast kept its steady gaze upon me, neither blinking nor looking away for even one moment. Our eyes were locked on each other. Then I spoke.

“Fellow traveler, from what depths have you risen to confront me in my path of doom? What sins have cast you into the endless chasm that engulfs you in the same misery as I? Is there meaning to your mad appearance, reason to your hideous form, or does your incarnation bode little more than another horrific simulation hurled at me by the forces of darkness in my infernal journey?”

The monster stood motionless in the middle of the road, looking at me with no altered expression. The peacock eyes remained wide but beady, dark and intelligent. I didn’t know if it could even hear me as its ears seemed to have grown inward. I didn’t know if it could speak to me even if it could hear, as its mouth was a blood-curling orifice filled with bone, meat, tongue and saliva. The only thing I heard was its heavy breathing. I too remained silent while I waited for this seemingly deaf and mute beast to make a move. But it just sat there in the middle of the road, looking me in the eyes. No blinking. No flinching. And then, after what seemed like an eternity - even by hell’s standards - the monster spoke.

“Fellow traveler of the netherworld, I greet you…”

And what a voice it was, at once mellifluous and masculine, with a speech that was refined and eloquent! I was stunned by the contradiction.

“If it is a hideous form you see in your path, rest assured that that hideous form is your form, that this body is your body, that this face is your face. For I know not what it is you see exactly, but if it is any bit as hideous as that which I see in front of my own eyes right now, then I can forgive you your outburst. Your black bulging right eye and the sloe eye on the left side of your bulbous skull would seem to you as green and tender and clear as in the days in which you roamed the earth. Your lacerated, leprous skin would seem to you milky soft and tender to the touch. Your hunched back and the patchy remnants of your hair may seem like the powerful back and mane of a lion, your crippled legs and deformed feet, I’m sure, are to you those of Achilles, and that deformed mouth that drools saliva on to your bloated belly must seem like it is only fit for kissing angels and sipping ambrosia from sacred fountains. But be not mistaken, foul wretch. Your sight is hideous to all but you.”

Upon hearing the monster’s words I instinctively looked down at my own body. I saw my arms and legs and torso all of a sudden sprout and morph from my very eyes as if responding to my gaze and creating the form I assumed I’d had: the body of a young man. I looked back at the creature who was, as before, staring at me, beady-eyed and intelligent. The monster gave a demented smile.

“Vanity is a difficult weakness to overcome,” it said sarcastically. “But so is fear. You spent a lifetime averting your own gaze, now be prepared to spend an eternity confronting that which you feared to face.”

I felt sick. My initial curiosity - even happiness - in having found another sentient being in these lonesome depths was shattered and only gave way to further melancholy, despair and torment. The monster studied my physiognomy as if it were studying the very map of hell.

“Tell me how it is you know about me,” I demanded.

“I only know that which you know about yourself…” replied the creature, before adding perniciously, “Monster.”

The creature looked me piercingly in the eyes. There was something in the way it called me ‘monster’ that sent a chill through my entire body. It was as if it knew a secret. I felt vulnerable and defensive all of a sudden.

“Explain yourself, creature, you talk in riddles. How is it you presume to know me so well; indeed, as you say, to know everything that I know of myself?”

“Enough questions,” the monster said with a disdainful wave of its massive, meaty claw-like hand. “My journey too is long. Step aside and let me be on my way.”

But I couldn’t let the creature pass. I was obsessed with what it had said. Even the sight of this thing aroused an awkward feeling in me, one of strange familiarity. The creature’s eyes remained fixed on me, unflinching, unblinking, inhuman, and I couldn’t move.

“Tell me one last thing…” I said finally, fearfully. “Why am I here?”

The creature stood silent for what seemed a long time. It was so still it almost looked dead, except for its eyes. Then it raised one of its enormous, hideous arms and extended its monstrous hand toward me and opened it, as if wanting me to hold it in mine. For some reason, the prospect of holding its hand did not disgust me. In fact I wanted to, as if it were necessary. When I did take its hand into mine, it felt warm and comforting, soft and tender, despite its appearance. I repeated again, almost in a whisper, “Why am I here?”

The monster also spoke softly.

“You are here…” it said, before a brief pause, “to find the answer to that very question. You are here to find out who you are.”

I felt offended by this answer. I became indignant and let go the creature’s hand.

“I know who I am,” I declared defiantly.

The creature’s face twisted strangely as if it were attempting to smile. Its eyes never wavered.

“Then tell me,” said the creature. “Who are you?”

I thought this question wholly ridiculous and prepared to answer. I searched for a name, but somehow I couldn’t come up with one. I searched and searched in my mind, but nothing. I was nameless.

“Do you search for a name? Names mean nothing here. Who is there to distinguish yourself from? How can a name be you? Do you search for a nationality? A face? A memory? Something incontrovertible, permanent and true?”

I foundered and fumbled for a moment, trying desperately to think of the obvious answer. But it seemed now that something that was once so obvious was no longer so obvious. I tried to think of who I was, but I found I had no recollection of it, as if I had memories, but no memory of who I was. And yet I always felt I knew who I was, I just… didn’t.

“But I have a consciousness. My consciousness is who I am.”

“If your consciousness is who you are, then you are what you are conscious of.”

“But all I see is torture and torment, hideous, disjointed, vague memories of pain and sorrow. I see monsters and phantoms, fear and despair, all conjured from the depths of my mind. It’s as if my consciousness exists around me, not within me, as if I only exist in my consciousness, as if I’d been… turned inside out. It’s as if I am nothing and I reside in my consciousness like a hollow memory.”

“You feel that you are trapped in your darkest fears?”


“But you are conscious of your own entrapment, are you not?”


“Thus your consciousness is still intact, is it not? You are conscious of your plight. Therefore your consciousness still belongs to you, still is you.”


“And you are conscious of your surroundings, like they were – as you say – taken from inside you, as if you were turned inside out?”


“Then all that exists for you, inside and out, is your own consciousness.”


“So what part of your consciousness then is that which you see around you, that which haunts and torments you, that which is this hell that you perceive?”

I stood speechless, not knowing how to answer.

“In other words,” continued the monster, “why are you here?”

Suddenly the answer seemed obvious. But I couldn’t say it. I was afraid to speak. The monster said it instead.

“Hell is all around you traveler. Hell has arisen from within you. Hell is your conscience. You are your conscience.”

I felt nauseous. I knew what was coming. I wanted to close my eyes, but the creature’s eyes held me in a daze. The monster spoke slowly, clearly, clinically.

“You are Hell.”

I staggered where I stood, and I fell to my knees. I looked up and the beast towered above me like a demon. Still I could not take my eyes off of it. Suddenly I felt I knew this beast, but didn’t. It was nameless. It lived within me. It was a part of me. Just as in dreams, where a figure is known to us even though we can apply no names or faces to it, the creature seemed a representation of many forms, but no single form. It was meaningful and significant, I knew that, but it was nothing and nobody. I looked all around me again, realizing that I was looking at the inside of my own mind, my own psyche, my own consciousness, my own conscience… my own Hell.

I feebly moved to the side of the gravelly road. The heat of the endless wasteland around me seemed to become even more oppressive. I watched the monster shuffle off slowly, lugubriously, its long, sharp nails digging into the soft road as if they were digging into the inside of my very own skull. Before it got far, I asked one last question.

“And am I a manifestation of your hell?”

The monster didn’t even stop or turn its head as it steadily moved on its own inexorable path, nails digging into the dirt.

“Of that,” it said with a sarcastic, fading voice, “I have no doubt.”

4. Procession of the Unborn

Forgotten daughters, unwanted sons,
Here lies the road never traveled,
That leads not from the cradle,
But begins in the grave

Remorse is a cold companion when trying to overcome the specter of guilt. The soul withers, dash and daring gives way to pusillanimity, confidence gives way to doubt. The mind fumbles and dire thoughts stutter forth, circling around our heads like vultures sensing the imminent end, feeding on our weaknesses, engorging themselves on our insecurities. Ghosts appear in our dreams and then take over our waking lives until we can’t tell which is which, and whether they are not the same. The long drawn out nightmare engulfs us and claims us as its own until we sense unmistakably that we too are our own victim, we too are our own dream, our own nightmare, our own specter. But the most disturbing realization befalls us when we find that we have no one to blame for our misery, that we are our own murderer and our own victim at every instance of our remaining existence. And just when we think death can remedy our festering conscience with its promise of annihilation, we find that it does not end us, that it only weakens us until we are nothing but that which we sought to destroy in the first place, in that one final, fell swoop. Ironically, all that remains is the only thing we wanted to destroy. And now it is all we are, all that I am. I have become a lingering never-died, and my punishment is an impending end that never arrives – for a punishment that never punishes is like salvation that never saves.

And now those very same ghosts rise forth from their dark slumber. I cannot differentiate them from dream, life, demon or fire. They drift toward me with ease, gliding upon me gracefully, with the lightness of those who know they are not remembered, who know they are not missed, who feel not the burden of the living and the once-lived. The procession of the unborn was upon me.

One by one the shadows approached and I saw the stoic faces of little animated, angelic statuettes composed of vapor, angelic in their vapid composure. They transformed into babes, and then children, aging and changing as they encroached upon me, finally assuming the form of a grown man, my age, or the age I remember myself being. And the man stood in front of me as every stage of his life was individually embodied behind him in descending order, like a retracting lifeline encapsulating 30 years until it was no more than a reptilian fetus at the end of the line, far down the road.

This man was now in front of me, and he spoke.

“What has brought you to this road, hideous monster? What demons have led you on this path?”

Again I looked down at myself and saw my arms and legs spontaneously extend in reaction to my gaze and reconstruct the form I knew when I was a man – the form I wanted to see and flattered myself as possessing. I noticed his voice echoing on. He repeated his question.

“Answer me, wretch. Where are the demons that have brought you here?”

His voice echoed on, but with a higher and higher pitch. I realized that it wasn’t really an echo, that every word he said was uttered by those behind him, the individual manifestations of every age of his life, so that each word spoken was spoken over the course of his entire life in that one instant, in descending order, down through the stages of his manhood, adolescence, youth, childhood and even before his birth. The voice changed, grew younger - at one point it seemed to acquire a stutter, at another an accent - until the word became a mere twitch in the tail of the fetus floating in the distance.

“I do not know those demons you speak of, yet they are familiar to me, like the remnants of a dream. They surround me and haunt me at every step of my infernal journey. They oppress me with fear and suffering, with helplessness and guilt, even though I don’t know what they mean. They assume forms I have never seen, yet forms I have at some point been, forms of feelings, of emotions I know too well, but without knowing their origins. I feel I’m pursuing my own worst nightmares like a man who hates himself, like a man who is hated by himself. I don’t know these demons you speak of, but I fear I will never be rid of them. An eternity awaits me, and I fear for every ounce of what’s left of my being.”

I shuddered as I finished speaking. The man’s look grew disdainful of me. His face looked bitter.

“Beware creature,” he said, menacingly. “Demons come in many shapes and forms. Whether you recognize some but not others means little. Some are demons that have never been born, some are demons struck down and killed by your own hand, even though you may never have met them, and some are demons that haunt you from realms you’ve never traveled, and in dreams you’ve never dreamt. They will be revealed to you. You will know them. You will see and recognize them. You will revel with them and wallow in them. For they are your demons and only you can conjure them, as only you have created them.”

As he spoke I witnessed a transformation in his figure. His hair slowly grew and changed hue, his eyes became smaller, his body became supple and shrank, and his hands assumed gradual effeminacy, until what I found standing in front of me was the image of a girl. It was a girl I knew and once loved, though I couldn’t remember her name, and her raven hair and flaming eyes fulminated unto me as she grew brighter and brighter until I lost sight of her form in the brilliance that emanated from her. Her voice spoke to me, melodic and sibylline…

“As only you have created them, only you can kill them…”

The procession of life that stretched over this barren road started filing through her and toward me, gliding elegantly as before, until they went right through me, right into me, an instant after looking straight into my eyes. The red haired girl disappeared as she melted into the procession that now melted into me. As the stages of this creature’s life became one with me, I eventually found myself face to face with the fetus, who was the last in line. But now the fetus was large, it was my size, or the size I remembered myself having been, and its eyes were as large as my head, or how I vaguely remember my head having been, and its limbs were the limbs of an amphibian. It did not proceed any further but just stood before me. As it looked into my eyes I realized what I was looking at, though it was nameless, though it was faceless, though it had never existed. I knew it was a part of me; I knew it well though I had never beheld it before. It was my own flesh and blood. The image saddened me. Tears surged in my eyes, a wave of guilt swelled up in me and overcame me, and I stood now with my head in my hands, weeping at the ungodly, demonic, forlorn creature that stood before me. I had seen what it would have become, what it would have grown into, the elegant man, the handsome man, the intelligent man who had stood before me not long ago, who had my age, who had my looks, who was, to all intents and purposes, as I had once been. And I broke down as this demon from my past spoke to me. He whispered to me, and his voice was the voice of a cherub, sublime and solvent…

All these demons have come and gone
In ghostly apparitions,
Through fields of dreams,
Of nightmares and visions,
Treading by day,
Ever so lightly over these fields,
To embark and rest upon your uncharted shores,
And claim the nights you know are theirs,
Yet dare not ask from whence they came,
Nor dare reflect your face in theirs…

Tired companion, spirit of piteous plight,
We have inhabited these shores long enough,
Now in death shall our embrace hold tight

My sobbing grew loud, echoed, and then faded, like a mob drowning in a whirlpool. When I opened my eyes I found myself once again staring down the well of misery and into my own eyes reflected in the sad, dark waters that rippled silently with the last tear I had shed.

Once more the well darkened. Rhymes and sonnets and voices swirled in the melancholy waters. I heard the voices of ghosts I had once known. An echoing noise arose from the depths of the well and grew louder as it ascended toward my ears. The eddying sounds intertwined and overlapped into a deafening din and around my head the voices swirled and sang – each one distinct, each one distinguishable, each one whispering to me, each one beseeching and deriding me, mocking and soothing me, wreaking havoc on my psyche. In they dragged me, into the depths of their ghostly requiem. Theirs were not booming choral voices, but hissing, sullen, spiteful utterances forsaken by life and forgotten in death.

A Moment on Earth

The little plastic bags with their little white grams arrived at the auspicious moment when the night was starting to assume the burden of their insecurities. Intoxicated with the spirits that had purposefully paved the way for this moment, all in the room had more or less successfully suppressed their consciences and soaked them in their respective concoctions, leaving their collective conscious soft, shrunken, off-guard, and clumsy. The almost involuntary call to the "Engineer" followed like a reflex, as if summoning a priest. The crystalline powder was crushed and spilled on to a plate, dried with a lighter, chopped with someone's credit card, tasted for traces of amphetamines and laxatives, and divvied up with professed fairness. Someone asked for a bill and it was promptly handed to them. The bill was rolled tightly before being laid beside the misleadingly dormant snow-white lines on the plate to be passed on from reveler to reveler like an ancient ritual, with respect, with awe, with sobriety. The plate was subject to furtive glances from all every time it was passed on and every time another worshipper kneeled and bowed before it. No matter how inebriated anyone was, no matter how boisterous, when the plate came before them their faces grew somber, their eyes became fixated for a brief moment, and there was a hint of guilt to them, something everyone else saw but always ignored. Each of them enjoyed the numbing of the gums and the bitter glob that oozed down their throats. And as the plate passed around, as the sanctified powder was ingurgitated, the worshippers assumed an affected seriousness, each one becoming an animated caricature of themselves. The insipid conversation eventually degenerated into a cacophony of monologues and diatribes. Promises and affection became the only currency. The powder had changed their whole egonomy with the most sincere insincerity.

It was still early in the night, he was slightly drunk, and he had just had his first line. He was with his best friends, he had a job and he had a girlfriend, and she was sitting beside him. They laughed and he told her how much he loved her, how much he always would. The music sounded grand, like a symphony playing only for him. For a moment he closed his eyes and he thought only one thing, over and over again, like a prayer…

"I wish this would never end... I wish this would never end... I wish this would never end..."

5. Ghost Requiem

A chorus of weary, moribund warriors appeared, their cuirasses and armor still sinking heavily into the dilapidated frames of their decrepit bodies, their steel helmets weighing agonizingly upon their bruised and battered heads, their voices those of once proud men who had been defeated by the ravages of time and wrenched from the joys of life by the rabid claws of death. One after another the ghosts of warriors past came forth and recited their words of wrath. This annihilated host recited the Ghost Requiem in one ever-dying, never-dead breath…

Chorus sings: Eternal Repose of the Damned


Eternal rest has forsaken us,
And the perpetual light shines no more,
For unto our tormented souls,
Neither Zion nor Jerusalem,
Await with their heavenly roar.

Restless sons of the damned,
Ours are the groans you abhor,
Eternal damnation is upon us my lord,
And the perpetual light shines no more,
Eternal damnation is upon us my lord,
And the sacred light shines no more.

Chorus sings: Days of Wrath


The days of wrath have long since consumed us,
And our world has been left in ashes,
Where now kings and priests lie sated and spent,
While others lie bleeding with gashes.

And what trembling there was when our hour came,
And what weight there was on our shoulders,
When the judges of doom descended upon our heads,
Hurling at us their treacherous boulders,
Stealing the light from our yet heaving bosoms,
With the same boney hands that once held us.

Chorus sings: War-Trumpets


The war-trumpets bellowed like hungry wolves,
And terror struck even the necropolis of ages,
Summoning the dead to the throne of darkness
Disturbing even the repose of the sages.

Death became our nature and limbo became our state,
Drifting in the netherworld from whence mankind arose,
And then plunged in again,
To give account of itself in shame,
Before the shining angel and his four horsemen
That plucked our eyes with their blood-thirsty hoes.

Chorus sings: The Written Book


The written book has exhausted and devoured,
All that was the faith-mongering world,
And has left a bitter judge,
To rule over this wasteland,
Of broken spirits and thwarted life,
Where even the angels have lost their hold.

And ever since this judge has taken his seat,
All that is clear and true has remained hidden,
The veil of fear has descended over our eyes,
Both goodness and evil have spawned war,
Both virtue and vice have spawned destruction,
Nothing has gone unavenged,
Not even the crown has shed its thorns.

And what they called Faith,
That was their greatest weapon,
And we learned to live with it,
Even though it fed off our fears,
And what they called Hope,
We learned to nourish it,
Even though it drained our bodies,
Of the vital life-force we held dear,
The lives of warriors were betrayed,
For fake promises that killed our spirit,
With an all-too-holy veneer.

Chorus sings: And What Shall We Wretches


What shall we wretches say then?
To which protector shall we appeal?
When even the strong man is barely safe,
And life spirals away from even its most favored sons,
Brave sons who were once made of steel.

Who can protect you then,
Save faith in thyself,
And the death of all false prophets,
Who have rendered your soul a ghost,
Who have taken from you even,
The dignity of death?

And who can save you then,
Save a heart still open to the world,
To the beauty of image and form,
And not drowned and soaked,
In the pipedreams of religious zeal?

Chorus sings: King of Awful Majesty


King of awful majesty,
You have damned those unworthy of your salvation,
Damn you, pitiless fount of spite!
You who are the mouth of perdition,
And who in our perdition take delight.

You! King of awful majesty,
No more do the damned obsequy to your rule,
No more do they bow down in fear of your might,
Your forgotten sons seek not salvation, nor pity,
They seek now their revenge,
In very spite of their hapless plight.

Chorus sings: The Confounded


And when we damned have been consigned to keen flames,
Call us not with the blessed,
We are no longer your kneeling suppliants,
For our hearts will overflow like fire,
Laughing at the contrition of the devout,
Who have handed over their lives into your care,
And fail to take even their own lives,
Without fear of offending thee,
Strangled as they are by their own doubt.

Chorus sings: The Weepers


No more weeping then!
We are the guilty awaiting judgment,
We are the ones who shall arise,
To be given final rest,
Before the peacock eyes.
Those eyes of a nature unblessed.

And though god and his son have other plans,
Those very same war-trumpets,
Will blare only with our commands.

Chorus sings: Domine Luciferus


Noble angel, king of agony,
You have now received the long departed souls,
In the depths of the bottomless pit,
You have yourself delivered us into the jaws of the lion,
And plunged us into a passage unlit,
Where the standard-bearer Michael dares not enter,
And where Abraham and his seed were betrayed,
Never to escape the wrath of eternity
Nor ever return to the Eden of their race.

Chorus sings: Eternal Darkness


Now eternal darkness swallows us,
And the rivers of gloom flood these wastelands,
Empty, hollow, and bare,
Your mercy is hollow, barren and dead,
And your saints lie naked and hungry under your care,
Made in the image of your own deceit,
Writhing under the burden of your stare.

Chorus sings: Liberation


So we seek not your deliverance, o lord,
For our lives have already been taken,
Our world has already been judged by fire,
And its foundations have already been shaken.

And while your flock lies in fear and trembling,
A whole new trial is at hand,
The heavens and hell shall be our own making,
Destiny is now ours for the taking,
And Man on his own deeds alone shall stand.


The earth will be the land of the sheep no more,
But the land of the wolves at last,
The earth shall belong to the meek no more,
The strong shall re-inherit their past.

Amen, hallelujah,
The day of judgment is finally near,
Amen, hallelujah,
The day of revenge is finally here.

Amen, lord, hallelujah,
Your time has long since gone,
Amen, lord, hallelujah,
Our time is yet to come.

6. Into the Well

In the well my mind did see
The ebb and flow of ages
And the promise of youth
Gamboling in the folly of the seasons

Nascent spring, overflowing summer,
Withering autumn and silent winter,
Like four wayward mothers
Come to claim their children from oblivion
And press them into the bosom
Of their eternal embrace

The hissing and whirring voices of the damned fell back into the echoing abyss from whence they had arisen, descending as they had ascended; with pain, with anger, with pride and with spite. The hollow eyes of their ghastly horde could just be made out from the ebon calm and they were fixated on me as they withdrew back into the chasm, drawing me in with them, luring me down into the Well of Misery with eerie whispers and boney hands. And so I was dragged down into the abyss, caught up in a whirling eddy of ghosts.

My descent was slow and tortured, free of pain in any physical sense, free of whips and lashes and blades and the dark fire that has so often garnished the credulous fancy of our race. Hell is not about these instruments and symbols of torture that so readily represent all the most vivid manifestations of our earthly fears, fanning and feeding off the human’s instinctual dread of physical pain. In hell the pain manifests itself from inside me, from the tortured depths of my own psyche. Hell is created in my own image, through the significations and representations of my own conscience. I am not a body, nor even a soul, but that part of me that is the most susceptible to pain, the very pain I have created, experienced and tried to shed before it engulfs me, devours me, and spits me out without ever alleviating itself. And the pain takes on an external form and a sense of corporeal truth all its own, in the form of the conscience it once inhabited and emanated from. The pain that was created by me, externalized by me, given form by me – the pain that has manifested a whole infernal universe for me – now preys on me, haunts me and tyrannizes over me. Creation takes vengeance on the creator, the pain both sustains and punishes the guilt, hell becomes a manifestation of my own conscience. I am both hell and its victim.

And so I floated, my body gliding slowly in the neon ether around me, pitch-black, wishing I would only speed downwards and away and be consumed by something, eaten – physically – chewed and gnawed. I longed to be violently put an end to, to suffer the most horrible punishment… I wanted to be torn apart by beasts. Rather, I wanted to have a body, a weight, a substance that could be torn apart by beasts. And instead I had met a punishment even more terrifying: a punishment that gave me no hope of an end, that did not even manifest itself as punishment, as something I could at last surrender myself, my will, my whole conscience to, thereby finding happiness in finally being able to resign myself to my fate, to cash in my erring, hurtful, guilty will for the peace of mind of never having to bear the consequences of that will again. Thus does punishment become the salvation of the guilty.

But this torture I was subjected to now was something I had never imagined. I was deprived of even the final relief of being punished, of succumbing to a greater power that could finally destroy me. I wanted to be free of myself, and yet I was left wholly untouched, not a finger was laid on me, not a judge was in sight, nothing to help me perish and finally be rid of me. The suicide seeks death so as to finally perish. The suicide does not simply spurn life. That is hardly the issue. The suicide seeks to lose himself. Death seems like the guarantee of that. Thus does death give us hope, reason for optimism, giving us comfort in the belief that if only we willed so it could all be over, gone, we could be no more, and everything that has given us pain and lingered in our psyche to haunt and torment us over the length and breadth of our lives could finally by wrenched from us, with us, by us, for the destruction of the world as we know it, as we have created it, as we have suffered it, as we have become indifferent to it. And so imagine now the torment and agony of a man who no longer has the option of death, who no longer has that one essential freedom – the only freedom the human being really has – which is the freedom to take our own lives, to destroy ourselves, to destroy the universe of consciousness, the oppression of conscience. This is the punishment of hell: its very lack of a punishment; our dispossession of the one true freedom that once belonged to us.

And so I floated down slowly, alone, in torment, in hopelessness, in fear of what I would confront – of what would confront itself within me. But I slowly started making out some shapes in the darkness below me. And there was no sense of being in a damp, dirty well, but one of being in a pleasant bedroom that made itself more and more familiar to me as I floated down within it, with the moonlight peering through the lush curtains to reveal to some extent the contents of the room. And as my feet touched the ruffled but cool bed sheets beneath me and made their probing way in to this bed, the rest of my body came to rest supine and peered up at the ceiling from where I must’ve descended, but which showed no signs of perforation. I realized I was in my own bedroom, from a certain age in my life – late adolescence – and everything was exactly as I remembered it. For the first time since my infernal descent, a memory had been this clear. Not just hauntingly, vaguely familiar, but clear. The same furniture, the same walls and picture frames, the same familiar angle from whence I would observe my room first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

And then it began: memories started taking over my body, but the feelings were amplified to the point where what would once be left to the realm of simile, allegory and metaphor in my past existence became animated reality here in my hellish sojourn. My respiration grew deeper, more belabored, until my chest started heaving, as if I were alive again. As the room grew colder and my shivering increased to the point of violent convulsions, I saw my breath being exhaled out of my now aching lungs, like clouds of poison dissipating into the fetid air around me. I felt pins and needles all over my skin, like pangs of conscience that seem to sink into my skin – and into my skull – when panic takes me in its vice-like grip and anxiety makes a cowering beast of my fortitude. And when I looked down upon my convulsing body, I did in fact see those pins and needles, no longer poignant similes, but potent steel instruments that had sunk into my skin. In the grips of such torment one feels the inability to move, to take any action whatsoever, the body being incapacitated in shock, in torment, so that the senses overwhelm the nervous system to the point of crippling it with an overload of stimulation. Clasps gripped my limbs, my ankles, my wrists, slithered their way around my neck like unctuous vipers, moved across my forehead, and pinned me down. With my eyes wide open, gazing out hopelessly, the demons inserted their most insidious instruments of torture: fear. And the setting was perfect, for their mis en scene was that of adolescent angst, anxious in the face of the future, full of so many seething, crippling and bellowing emotions, like a bull-calf kicking helplessly in a bull-pen. The time must have been in the melancholy waters of those despicable small hours in the early morning, before sunrise, when with eyes wide open, tossing and turning, I faced the full brunt of reality, in all its brutal honesty. In this semblance of reality I found that horrid mirror into my own soul, and the horrid host of anthropomorphised emotions for whom doubt is the weapon of choice in their attempt to overcome me, destroy me and devour me. Fear is their desired end – a crippling, debilitating fear. I lay there still shuddering, gagged and expressionless, living this recurring insomniac’s nightmare once more, as I had long ago. That I remembered clearly.

The clasps suddenly loosened, the bed fell out from under me and once again I found myself floating down, agonizingly slowly. Then iron bars began rising up all around me, reaching above me, enclosing me in a cage. Faces also started rising up around me – but not just any faces. These were the faces of people I knew, and they were all looking at me, pointing at me, and laughing at me. I felt a cold chill shake me down to my feet. I tried calling out to them but my voice would come out strange, twisted, almost unintelligible, like an animal, and they would laugh even harder than before. I looked down upon myself and saw that I was a cripple. My hands and feet were deformed. God only knows what my face looked like. I could barely see, and the sounds that emanated from my mouth sounded horrid as I tried harder and harder to communicate with those around me. I saw a girl I used to love approach me and poke a stick into my ribs, looking me in the eyes and laughing all the while. My friend was making ape-like faces at me, jumping up and down, imitating my simian voice in a mocking manner. My friends stood there glaring at me with pity and contempt, my mother didn’t recognize me, despite my pointing and grunting in her direction. My father looked at me with derision, disappointment and, eventually, indifference. Tears welled in my eyes, cramps overwhelmed my stomach until I could bear it no longer. The disgust, the anger, the fear and the loneliness finally conjured up a terrible howl that rose up like a final desperate cry for help. But the faces now floated away from me, into the darkness above, and my cage floated downward until the laughter and the faces from which they had emanated all dissipated into the cold darkness, and eventually disappeared. The iron bars too began floating upwards and away from me, disappearing into the void, leaving me to continue my agonizing plunge into oblivion.

After floating in this state for some time (maybe a second, maybe an eternity) my feet finally landed on ground. I stood once again on a road of gravel, although it didn’t seem to be familiar to me. The sky was black with red clouds. Strange creatures resembling large ravens – or perhaps small pterodactyls – hovered overhead. I saw people walking past me; normal people, though not people I knew. I tried to talk to them, to ask them questions, but there were no answers. Not one of them so much as glanced my way, making me believe I was invisible. My steps were belabored and heavy and I could barely move. My joints ached horribly. I felt cold and I felt hungry, thirsty, even dizzy. What new torture had I prepared for myself? I looked down at myself and found that I was far from invisible. I found that I was an old man – a decrepit, shoddy, beggar of an old man. I panicked and sought help but as I touched the passing people they shoved me away. I then just sat there in the middle of the path and tried to catch somebody’s attention. But the people just nudged me to the side, scraped past me – if they were civil – and kicked me if they found me a pestering nuisance. I spotted a child coming at me with a menacing guise and before I could even move away this child grabbed me and started shaking me violently, shaking me with a strength that was far beyond that imaginable for a child his age. And as he shook me he looked directly into my eyes with a look that seemed very familiar to me. At once the eyes that seared me were my eyes, the eyes I remembered having when I was a young man and when I belonged to the world of the living. But I don’t think the child recognized my eyes at all. To the child, mine were simply the eyes of a crippled old man who was the object of this youth’s spite. Finally the child disappeared, as did all the other figures that crowded this path I was occupying, and the gravelly road began giving way from under me, dropping me back on my downward plunge.

...And I met fear, sitting on a curb, under the mid-day sun, in the heart of a city, surrounded by people...

My descent continued for what seemed the weight of an eternity. I faded in and out of consciousness. The nausea was now getting to me and I felt no more power in my will to go on, to keep clenching my teeth and endure the unendurable that was unfolding all around me and within me. That was when I saw the tiny speck in the great neon void beneath me – a tiny speck that gradually became wider and wider, approaching closer and closer. The speck soon became a ball, then a large sphere, and finally I entered it, like an astronaut descending back into earth’s atmosphere. I saw for the first time a pleasant sight, a refreshing, beautiful, uplifting world into which I floated effortlessly. The skies were blue, the few clouds that hung along the horizon glowed with the rays of the old, familiar sun – not a great orb of darkness and decay, but one of life and fond memories. Below me the great lush and verdant land boomed with colors and life. All manner of fauna bustled amid flowers and plants and trees for as far as the eyes could see. I floated down brushing by the leaves of tall trees, smelling the scent of spring in the air, the aroma of flowers, and the gamut of all earthly delights that seemed once so dear to me, and so far to me now for what seemed a lifetime since my descent. My body finally came to rest on the lush grass of a lea in the middle of rolling hills and robust forests, amid intrepid deer and frolicking gazelle, timorous great panthers and innocuous serpents. Fountains tended by nymphs and water sprites spotted the land for as far as my eyes could see. My heart was at ease. Could this be right? Had I stumbled upon paradise? Was I indeed in the garden of pleasures?

A Moment on Earth

Early on, when the first wave pulled her under, she felt her head spin and she felt fear grip her muscles and paralyze her body. The ocean had her now and she was taken down to the bottom before being dragged out to sea by the undertow. She hit the seabed repeatedly, her head dashing upon the jagged rocks. She flailed desperately, trying to swim to the surface, yet being totally disoriented, she kept swimming down into the rocks. She felt absolute chaos, her head was racing with incongruous thoughts. But soon even this violence became so regulated that her mind began to focus. Time began to slow down. She thought of her family and how it would be for them to hear of her death there on that foreign shore, so far away from them. They will never have said their final goodbye’s, they will never have shared their final thoughts. They would read of her death in a foreign newspaper, in a foreign language. They would hear the strange names and words that would be associated with the name of their daughter, and they would weep and grieve. She thought of what sorrow it would be for them.

She rolled and rolled, and her consciousness began fading. Her thoughts began to disperse, to give way. Time slowed down even more. Her thoughts began to emerge from deeper down inside her, from the depths of her being. And she then thought of death, though not the incidence of death, as before. She confronted death itself. She saw darkness, a blackness that she had never encountered before, never this dark, never this black. It was as if she saw emptiness.

Right then, the rolling and the sinking seemed to slow and even cease. Her mind seemed to also cease. Everything seemed as if in slow motion. And then time stood completely still. And the void was overwhelming. She saw her life pass before her eyes. Every moment when love was given and love was taken, when love was found and love was lost. Every moment relived itself. Love was the only thing that had ever mattered. By now the dread and fear had given way to a sense of joy, of relief, a desire for abandon. She welcomed the nothingness, she welcomed death. And as she was almost completely consumed by the darkness, she felt absolutely ecstatic. It was a sense of jubilation. It was pure happiness.

As she floated in this infinite space in time, she felt the lightness of the void. She felt free of her body, of weight, of what in that moment seemed like the hitherto unbearable weight that was life. Suddenly everything seemed to make sense, and she knew that death was what she wanted. She knew that she would finally wake up only when she was dead.

Before she floated to the surface and sputtered back to life, she had one last image in her mind. It was the most beautiful thing she ever saw. It was absolutely nothing.

7. The Garden of Pleasures

When Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu
Created the world in their own image,
The battle of Good and Evil became the Word,
And the Word manifested itself
As pleasure and pain

The human is but the fodder,
Swept aside from this eternal clash,
And our desires are but the embers,
Burnt out and left to wallow
In the despair of our awakening

As I stumbled to my feet in bewilderment, I made haste to look around me to be sure that my eyes were not deceiving me. The chirping of birds, the frolicking animals, the abundance of life around me, the confluence of colors, all seemed to me a literal godsend. I looked down upon myself to see what form I had now assumed and was pleasantly surprised to see it was the form that most flattered me. I then decided to approach one of the bubbling fountains that were in the vicinity and perhaps even talk to the ethereal naiads. They bathed in and tended to these fountains, being as they were the guardian water-nymphs whose souls were forever and inextricably bound to these extraordinary bodies of water that seemed static yet always flowing. To drink from these fountains seemed to me as tempting as if I were Tantalus himself and had finally broken free from my spell in Hades.

I made my way down a lush, grassy slope, toward the fount that was nearest me. Sparrows flitted around my head and the warm rays of the sun fell deliciously on my light-deprived skin. My skin felt as if it had been hungry for this light for what had seemed a lifetime. My heart raced with anticipation, swelling with expectation. It was the first time I felt truly happy in what seemed now an eternity in hell. The fount was of exquisite workmanship and gave off the most delicious sounds: trickling water in the pool below, bubbling atop the fount, a constantly flowing oasis. The fountain itself was a sculpture depicting the eternal clash between Good and Evil. The bulging eyes and taut muscles of both deities conveyed the significance of this clash, though I could not discern whether the figures represented were Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu, or Krishna and Shiva, or God and Satan, or some other avatars, perhaps belonging to a lost civilization, or perhaps one that had never existed. And yet from between the massive, vein-protruding hands of these figures locked in battle so violently, there arose a fount of water that contrasted so extremely with the aesthetics of its source as it gracefully reached into the air and softly splashed into the pool around it. My eyes then fixed on the reclining naiad lying by the edge of the pool holding a crystalline amphora in her elegant, snow-white hands, readying to immerse it in the water and bring it back up to her rosy lips. She was so white that she seemed almost translucent, and the cloth that so loosely draped over her pristine body was so fine that it was almost diaphanous, revealing the exquisitely lithe body of the nymph as her movements glided with the lightness and grace of a doe.

I approached with my hand outstretched, eager to touch this delicate sylph that idled but a few feet away from me. I approached ever so cautiously for fear of giving her a scare. My anxiety was put to rest with the turn of her head. As she looked toward me, her golden locks brushed across her face by a sudden, warm gust of air, concealing her features as they waved across her face, until the gust died down and first her eyes came into view, deep and green, and then her nose, small and pixie-like, and then her lips, thin, rosy and soft. Her skin glowed, her expression radiated toward me, arousing in me the warmest, most ecstatic feeling that has ever consumed me. I was utterly smitten. She smiled at me invitingly, and her teeth were like pearls. Her face projected both innocence and lust. She dipped her amphora into the pool again with the grace of a swan. I was now standing in front of this exquisite naiad. We did not take our eyes off each other for one instant. Her smile did not recede for even one moment. She held the amphora out to me and I held my hands out to her as she poured the heavenly-pure manna into them. I then brought my lips into my hands and drank the delicious water, expecting to gulp it down relentlessly and with a feverish thirst. But I didn’t. I took only one sip and my thirst was quenched. The pain that had hitherto consumed my body had now subsided. A glowing warmth surged through me like an electric current, as if Helios was driving his chariot through my heart like a madman, leaving pure fire pumping in my veins like sublime flames left in the wake of his blazing trail. My eyes dilated, my heart pounded, my skin tingled, my mind raced, and I felt what I thought must have been a surge of love, or perhaps just a very strong desire to touch another being. There was nothing to do but be taken away by my own emotions over which I no longer had any control. I felt like I was riding a dragon’s tail and I did not take my eyes off this creature that stood before me – not for a second.

The naiad extended her hand, offering to hold mine. I gave her my hand. My skin was so sensitive that the touch of her hand vibrated across my entire body in tiny ripples of joy. She arose and gently led me toward the pool, sensually glancing back at me as I followed her. As she divested me of my vestment with fingers lighter than air, I thought that I could go through hell and back eternally like a love-struck Sisyphus just to be able to drink from the naiad’s fountain and set my eyes once more on this heavenly creature. We sat by the pool and dipped our hands together into the cool waters, bringing them up to each other’s lips, drinking from and kissing each other’s palms. Her breath was warm and sweet and sent shivers of delight up and down my spine. I felt electrocuted with her every touch. The nymph then trickled the mesmerizing water over my head, my shoulders, my back, overwhelming me to such a point that I felt every muscle in my body spasm with ecstasy.

The naiad now ran her fingers over my shoulders, my arms, my chest and my stomach before she took both my hands into hers and drew me silently into the pool. Despite the clarity of the waters, I noticed that the pool must indeed be deep as I couldn’t actually see the bottom of it. The nymph went in first and began to submerge as I followed her. The water caressed me invitingly as I went under and began sinking down, drawn below by the water-sprite’s hands and the water itself that seemed to have a will of its own. And yet there was no anxiety on my part. Only bliss. We were both subsumed by the heavenly manna and we found ourselves whirling downward in a slow, winding eddy, spinning around as we kept our eyes on each other. Then we kissed and we continued spinning, and the first touch of her lips upon mine was the single most voluptuous sensation I had ever remembered experiencing. Suddenly a surge of energy jolted my body and I felt like all my organs, all my bones were being consumed in flames in the midst of a hecatomb, even as the cool waters enveloped me, producing the most delicious of contrasts.

We went down in the eddying whirl, intertwined as we descended. The nymph’s every touch left me in raptures, and I surrendered completely to her. The feeling of having lost all control, of having left everything behind, even reason and sanity, was liberating. My hands moved over her supple body, glowing, pale, delicate, yet powerful, as if it were composed of sunlight, like little photons building an edifice to their dreams. Her hair glided slowly about her head, my lips brushed across her nape, my hands explored her arched back, her slender thighs, her proud chest. Down we went, whirling in a Dionysian frenzy for the senses. I wanted to scream, to touch every soul that had ever lived, to say everything I never was able to say, to tell everyone that it was all alright, that it was all going to be alright, that there was no need to fear or to doubt, that one day it would all be alright, for the old man, for the crippled, for the aborted, for the forgotten, for the unloved, for the lonely. It was all going to be alright. I could actually hear my blood gushing through my ears as every cell in my body let out a million screams of joy.

The eddy began spinning more and more rapidly, and the pool began to darken somewhat, as if we’d sunk too deep all of a sudden. The water became colder, and the surging, climactic feeling inside me started to wane and wither, until I noted an abrupt end to my ecstatic enrapture. The glowing soul gave way to a darkening depression that slowly crawled across my mind, blotting out my feelings, benumbing my senses, descending like a great neon cloud over the fountain of pleasure. The nymph I had been holding in my arms, gripping so tight, wishing to be mine, she had also lost her spirits, her smile had long since left her lips, her skin glowed no longer, her eyes lost their luster, her body had become emaciated, and her hands and her movements were all lifeless. But her eyes, glazed and lifeless as they now were, remained open and fixated on me, now raising in me an obverse sensation of eeriness and dread. As the whirlpool spun us down faster and faster, my beautiful water-nymph started to disintegrate. I tried desperately to hold on to her, to try and hold on until we would emerge back up on the surface, but it was futile. Dread, angst, loneliness, despair filled my soul where only moments ago reigned happiness divine. Slowly and gradually I lost my nymph. She fell apart in my arms like a clay statue, cracking up into pieces and breaking off limb by limb, until all that was left me was a cloud of dirt swirling around me, and what were two muddy clumps in my hands where I had held her as if I were holding on for dear life. The darkness overwhelmed me. The whirlpool started to make me dizzy. The depression latched its filthy claws into my skull with a pressing, pressuring, unrelenting pain.

Down, down, down I went, back into the jaws of despair…

8. Death by Water

And so we are awoken by the tides
That lash upon these shores
In whispering, monotonous waves,
In waters too shallow for us to drown in,
And too deep for us to wade

I found myself on the bottom. The whirlpool still eddied above me, but around me there was to be seen a dark green, foul and murky seabed, strewn with bones and a fine and grey, filthy sand. I could make out shapes moving in the darkness. Then a shadowy figure emerged. A ghostly, green figure, semi-decomposed, floated its way to me until I could distinguish its features. The sockets where its eyes once were fixed upon my own eyes as the tattered rags that clung to its rotting flesh and blackened bones swayed with the light current that swept across the seabed. The ghost of this old sea dog stood in front of me and then spoke in a weak hissing voice that was the voice of the dead:

“I’ve been expecting you” he said.

I remained silent.

“Do you not recognize me?” he asked again.

“I do not” I replied.

“I am Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead. I have long since forgotten the cry of gulls, the deep seas swell and the profit and loss. This current under sea picks my bones in whispers, and as I rise and fall I pass the stages of my age and youth entering the whirlpool.”

“Yes, I recognize you now Phlebas.”

“And so you should… I who was once handsome and tall as you.”

And with those words Phlebas was lifted upward, swirling away for some time before disappearing into the whirlpool. I who was once tall and handsome as you. The words echoed in my mind but assumed the voice of Phlebas. His words, his image occupied my thoughts as I too bobbed and swayed with the deep seas swell and the odious current that had already begun to pick my flesh from my bones…

…in whispers.

A Moment on Earth

The moment of anticipation lingered over the course of a whole night until it was finally consummated in each other's ravenous abandon. He pulled her close and continued to look into her eyes. He looked at her with such unwavering intensity that she thought he was looking right through her and beyond her, into the most primordial and primitive shadows of her being, older than her and older than him, and older than even their species. Her own eyes were captivated by his, but they were yielding, and the smile on her lips gave way to the thought of him and the anticipation of him. When they kissed they felt each other's surrender. There was nothing left to hold back – no hesitation, no doubt, not even any secrets. The bond was complete and they felt at that very moment that they were in love. It was a feeling of overwhelming relief, like the end of a great struggle. Their limbs entwined, their chests heaved one against the other, their eyes were enthralled, they felt the relief of centuries, of millennia, as if thousands of years of history had culminated in this. They felt the ineluctable fate of their old, withered human race finally replenishing itself through themselves, finally becoming what it was destined to become – and what both of them knew it was destined to lose once again in its never-ending cycle of regeneration and rebirth. They were the blood and the bones of their desires, their instincts, their ancestors. And then they lost themselves in each other. The smell of each other's skin, the warm breath that blew rhythmically into each other's ears and necks, the touch of their lover's hand on their back and in their hair, their thrusting muscles and bobbing limbs, the unavoidable groans of pleasure, the glazed eyes, the flushing cheeks, the thirsty tongues and the parted lips, all mixed, clashed and flowed like a chaotic symphony, or a symphonious chaos. They shared words like a secret pact of pleasure, spoken with haste and urgency lest they should hear their own voice carry their own secrets back to their own ears when they found themselves again, and rediscovered their loneliness… again.

The moment seemed to last an eternity, suspended indefinitely, even without them, in the heavy, lustful air of the room. The quietness was precious for them both, because neither of them had ever heard such quietness before. Alone again in that room, lost in their own thoughts, having rediscovered their solitude, the quietness, too, came as a relief.

9. The Labyrinth

Half-man, half-beast,
We dread the nemesis
That gives us chase
In the labyrinth of our fears

And what good is escape?
What good is it to dream of flight?

As Icarus plunged, and Ariadne wept,
And the bloody sword of Theseus
Lay dripping over the beast’s severed head
Death crept in and claimed the hapless dreamers,
When only the Minotaur
Welcomed his fateful end

I found myself washed up on a gravelly yellow shore. Behind me lay a wide majestic sea. In the distance I saw an upturned whirlpool gliding like a cone over the water’s surface until it subsided and sank back into water. The afternoon sun shimmered lazily off the calm, rippling waves, dancing like little stars over the great blue expanse that stretched off into a familiar, blood-red horizon. I hoped I’d somehow left that barren hell behind me, but I quickly reproached myself over this self-delusional fancy. The red horizon still glowed menacingly yet seemed so distant as to provide me with a moment’s relief as I lay supine, resting on my elbows, soaking in this welcome moment of peace and tranquility. I wondered facetiously if Polyphemus the Cyclops was out there on his island, guarding the heifers of Helios, wailing still with a blinded eye in the eternal darkness that had resulted from his own cruel sacrilege. Perhaps Odysseus was still out there, sailing the wine-colored seas, still trying to find his way home to his beloved Penelope. I thought back to my days among the living, some of which were like this, basking under the setting sun, lying half-immersed in the warm water, looking out over the wide ocean, dreaming of places I’d never been and what it would be like to go to those places, and perhaps whether there was another boy on some distant shore across the ocean thinking the very same thoughts, dreaming the same dreams of conquest and adventure. Sometimes there was a girl next to me, laughing at my antics, our hearts full of a boundless confidence that only the young dare have, as if feeling that time stood still only for us, as if it were our very own and nobody else’s. It was strange, though. I couldn’t remember any names or conjure in my mind any faces, neither of my family nor of friends whom I’d once shared my life with. I could remember mythical figures and emotions and thoughts, but no faces, no names, no personal relations. At that moment, all I could remember clearly were the sun and the sea. But no longer did I wonder what lay beyond on that crimson horizon. I only dreaded it now and decided to get up and continue my hopeless journey, just as a shiver crept up my spine and relieved itself through my shuddering neck.

I turned toward the island and looked at what lay ahead of me: a great sloping wall of rocks, stones and boulders that stretched up high over my head. Above the rocky slope a great silver moon hung suspended, bright and young, like the face of Selena smiling at me. The climb looked difficult. I began, anxious to find where it would lead me, and what new torments and creatures awaited me. Up I went, toward the open arms of Selena. Having reached the top I looked out upon a lifeless, rocky terrain, yellow, parched and seared. There didn’t seem to be a single perceivable topographic variation to break the monotony of this desolate landscape. A wasteland spanned out for as far as my eyes could see. But then my eye caught something far off in the distance. There appeared on the crest of a truncated tor the outline of some sort of edifice. The distance seemed far. I set off immediately in the direction of this mysterious anomaly. The sharp rocks and stones burned beneath my feet, cut into me, causing agony with every step. And yet I trudged on, determined in the task that lay ahead of me, even as my aching feet left behind them a trail of blood.

As I approached the tor I began to descry the outline of this strange building that stood atop it. It resembled a temple with massive Doric columns lining the portico at the entrance. The base of each column seemed about a meter across with a shaft that reached about 8 meters high. Having arrived at the foot of the tor I began climbing up to this temple. There was silence all around me, save for the howling of a blustering breeze that was, thankfully, coming up from behind me, from the sea that brought me to this isle, bolstering me as I continued to scale the rocky slope. There was a haunting sense of loneliness and lifelessness in the air. There was not a bird overhead, nor any vegetation around. I felt my skin crawl and quickly turned to look behind me, feeling that I was being followed. There was nothing there. I completed the climb in one burst of energy, as if eager to shake off an imaginary pursuer. Finally, I found myself standing before the edifice.

Although the building resembled a temple at first sight, it seemed also to be something other. I walked up the steps and passed the massive columns into the portico. Whether this building was used for habitation or ritual I could not tell. The most striking part however was the ochre-colored walls depicting extraordinary mosaic murals reminiscent of the palace of Knossos. There appeared along the length of the wall the effigy of a fearful monster, half-man, half-beast: the Minotaur. But there stood before this Minotaur the effigy of a young man as he held forth his sword, facing this hideous beast with all the bravado and steadfastness befitting a hero. It was Theseus, no doubt. Another mural – on the other side of the gaping entrance – depicted dolphins jumping over waves in a mosaic ocean composed of thousands of little turquoise pieces of glass. The walls seemed significantly bigger and longer than I had estimated as I was approaching the tor. In fact, the walls, the columns, the portico, seemed to stretch on and on, as far as my eyes could see. Could this be true? I looked to one side and found that the edifice lengthened without end into the far horizon. I looked to the other side and found the same intriguing phenomenon. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I took some steps back past the row of columns to be sure what I was seeing, and the edifice once again seemed to retract, thus assuming its previous size and form. I stepped up again to where I’d been standing before, inside the colonnade, and upon looking once more from inside the portico to my left and then to my right, I found the same phenomenon replicate itself, with the edifice stretching on infinitely into the distance from either side.

I decided to proceed and explore this perplexing edifice. I went past the murals and into the dark entrance to the temple that stood gaping open, stretching three meters high. I couldn’t see a single thing from outside; it was pitch-black. My heart was racing – as if it were alive again – and I entered.

Upon passing the threshold, the dark chasm spontaneously illuminated and I found myself standing in a large vestibule, with a sparkling marble floor, white marble walls, and doors on every side. Above the doors a frieze ran continuously around the vestibular walls, depicting mythological figures of men and centaurs, satyrs and nymphs, gods and demons, unicorns, and even a peacock. I felt nervous and looked behind me for reassurance that the entrance was just there. But it wasn’t! There were instead five wooden doors lined up in the wall that seemed a good distance from me, certainly not a distance that could have been traversed in the two small, cautious steps I had barely taken since I entered. In fact, I found that I was in the middle of the vestibule. I looked down upon myself to see what form I had assumed now, and I found that I bore quite a heroic figure. I was wearing a white tunic – like a chiton – and I had a sheathed sword on my hip, much like Theseus depicted in the mosaic outside. My feet, however, were still lacerated and left a trail of blood behind me with thick red scrape marks. I thought this might be a good means to find my way back in case of my being lost, though I could already tell which door I had passed on my way in. Beneath my feet I noticed another grand mosaic depicting the same encounter between Minotaur and Theseus that was found on the outer wall. I noticed something peculiar in the eyes of the figures in the mosaic – both the figures, bull and man, had the same eyes. I looked up now and my gaze floated around the room, observing each door, trying to find some mark or sign that might help me come to some sort of decision as to how to proceed. Nervous as I was, I knew that whatever happened, at least I couldn’t die again, though whether this was a good thing or not I wasn’t sure. I decided it would be a good thing not to be able to die since I would avoid ending up back in hell a second time and having to start this literally god-forsaken journey all over again. In fact, as far as I knew, there may even have been different levels of hell that might be reached with each metaphysical leap that would have the aspect of death, in which I would become mired deeper and deeper into my own subconscious inferno until I actually became my own punishment, pursuing myself endlessly in an interminable, multilayered maze of guilt and fear. My ruminations, disturbing as they were, brought a paradoxical smile to my face. And with this smile came a momentary sense of courage; and with my new-found courage, came the desire to proceed and face the fate that lay before me. So I chose the first door I fixed my eyes on and turned the ivory knob cautiously, opening the door and taking my first step inside. As I took my first step in, I felt my right hand tightly grip the hilt of my sword.

I found myself standing amid tall green hedges, about three meters high on either side of me. I could only see ahead of me and behind me. As I turned to look behind me I saw the opening I had entered through speeding away from me until it disappeared completely, as if swallowed by the great hedges to my rear. As I set about exploring this garden, I noticed there were paths leading through the hedges – crooked, twisting, winding paths, some of them dead-ends, some of them going around in circles. This was a labyrinth. Lost and clueless though I may have been, I at least found comfort in the fact that my objective was clear: to get out. I wondered what strange creatures, traps and snares may possibly await me in my wandering through this forest of perdition, and whether there may not be other lost souls in the same predicament as me. And that made me think of the Minotaur. It was so obvious. The Minotaur guarded this labyrinth, depicted as it was in the murals and the mosaics of this strange, multidimensional edifice. The prospect of encountering it filled me with dread, but also with a sense of recklessness. Let it come, I thought, let it come and let me at least have the good fortune of discovering what my fate may be rather than sailing on these seas of misery and fear forever like a hapless infernaut. Let it come and claim this last, putrid shred of consciousness that I have become. Let it come and rip me to shreds. If I die, so be it; perhaps I can even look forward to passing through the garden of pleasures once more, perhaps I can once again taste that brief pleasure in the arms of the beautiful naiad once more, before sinking into the whirlpool once again, before stumbling once more across the labyrinth and so facing the Minotaur in this endlessly recurring nightmare from which there would be no waking or escaping. Perhaps this was the true torment, knowing that every torture, every moment of perdition would be lived eternally, would have no end, would be repeated over and over again throughout the length of eternity with no hope of salvation. This thought, terrible though it was, filled me with even more recklessness and desire to at least be underway with it, to stop my dithering and go forth facing the worst that fate could throw at me. Though many of us live our lives in fear and shadows, in death perhaps we will find the opportunity to be heroes – albeit tragic heroes, without exception. I unsheathed my sword and walked forth.

And so I went, rounding corner after corner, finding the same thick hedge standing before me, a perpetual green wall that slowly drove me out of my mind, trying to get around it, lose it, escape it, yet always finding it there again like a recurring obstacle. Every turn seemed new, every turn raised my hopes, and yet every turn led right back to where I had been before. Round and round I went, for what seemed like hours, days, weeks, maybe even years. The sun never set; there was no sun, just a dull, omnipresent light. Like me, the labyrinth was just a protean mass of representations created and fed by a mind, perhaps by my mind, perhaps by the mind of some omnipotent demiurge, perhaps the mind of a mischievous incubus, perhaps even the mind of the Minotaur. Perhaps everything existed in the mind of a child in another universe, living his days in the bountiful expanse of his imagination, creating a world in which did figure the demiurge, the incubus and the lost souls of infernauts like me. Perhaps his world was so refined that in it could be discerned a single thought in a passing moment, a split-second trapped between two footsteps, or caught between the syllables of a word, or captured forever in one quick but eternal glance. Perhaps it was in one child’s mind where this whole world and its infinite netherworlds existed, and perhaps all of its myriad forms and creatures were mere contrasting, fighting, clashing, uniting, loving thoughts of the one mind divided within itself, dividing off into infinite tangents that would one day lead back to the one ur-source – the omnipresent Mind, perhaps a child’s, perhaps a god’s, perhaps another’s, perhaps mine. As these inscrutable questions and their unfathomable answers swam around my head, I found myself repeatedly encountering my own bloody tracks, and rather than avoiding them, I followed them until I started merely going around and around on the same hopeless trail, bemoaning both my philosophical and directional lack of orientation and futility. I even felt that I was the Minotaur and Theseus in one, that I was running from my predator while at the same time chasing my prey, that I would somehow consume myself, kill myself until I existed no more. Around and around I went, sometimes snorting like a bull, sometimes screaming like a blood-thirsty man, laughing madly in between, and generally giving up hope of any chance of escape from the labyrinth. At one point I raised my sword above my head and slashed at the hedges that trapped me as I ran and let loose a blood-curdling howl.

It was in this moment of frenzy that I suddenly stopped and listened. I thought I’d heard a noise, and it sapped my courage. Perhaps the noise had been my own as I was howling and shouting and talking to myself like a madman. I stopped dead in my tracks of blood and listened for another sound. It would not be difficult to hear another being if it was there, because throughout my wondering in the labyrinth there was nary a sound, save for that of my feet scraping and sliding through the gravel and pebbles on the ground. Neither bird sang nor wind rustled. Not so much as a twig twitched in any part of the tall green hedging. But I distinctly thought I heard something. Could it be true? Could there indeed be another frenzied soul lurking about in the depths of this infernal labyrinth? I kept listening but heard nothing. I was tempted to shout out. I did shout out in an unintelligible grunt that was unmistakably foreign to the labyrinth and sure to attract the attention of any sentient being that happened to be in the vicinity. But there was nothing – no sounds of feet, no voices, no acknowledgment in any way, just the same eerie silence. I lost hope. I had probably caught the end of one of my own unconscious grunts, the way one awakens to a noise in the middle of sleep, unaware that it was one’s own voice, at the moment when one’s consciousness witnesses an unconscious escapee from the subconscious. I kept walking, utterly forlorn. I decided not to follow my trail of blood as my wound had already coagulated and no more blood was to be seen. My steps became more and more slothful, scraping across the gravelly path until, upon stopping, I heard the unmistakable sound of another pair of feet sliding to a halt, just a split second after mine, as if it were following me and didn’t want to give away its plans of pursuit. I felt frightened. It meant that there was somebody, or something, that did indeed know of my presence, even of my location, but didn’t want itself to be revealed. Perhaps this person or thing was just as cautious as I would indeed be if all of a sudden I was aware of another denizen of the labyrinth – as indeed I was. I decided to play with it, taking a few steps and stopping, and each time I did so, the other steps would stop just that millisecond too late. It was indeed following me. But it wasn’t behind me. It was around a corner I had just passed, on a path parallel to mine on the other side of a hedge.

I thought this rather amusing and continued to play, now taking a turn, now retracing my footsteps, now breaking out into a sprint, now stopping. And the footsteps followed me. Start, stop, sprint, turn, dash, jog, stop, run… I even began laughing as I did this, laughing at the top of my lungs so that I had to stop and lean against a hedge, almost in hysterics. And then all of a sudden I heard a hideous grunt. My laughing stopped very quickly. The grunting creature was close, it was very close, on the other side of the hedge, and it was inhuman, deep, resonating, like the grunt of a bull. My heart stopped. And then I heard it, the beastlike laughter of what must’ve been what I had feared but passed off as a paranoid fancy: the Minotaur. The orotund laughter was so loud it echoed across the skies and its effect was all the more impacting when it contrasted with the silence that followed in its wake – a silence that had never seemed this loud before.

Now I was beginning to panic. Cold sweat dripped off my forehead and on to the ground. The silence was so loud that every drop of sweat resonated, pit… pit…. pat. My heart was jumping out of my chest, my eyes were wide open in sheer terror, my pupils so dilated I felt that suddenly the light in the labyrinth had amplified. I couldn’t run, I couldn’t possibly stand to hear those steps of the beast again. I stood shivering, hoping the terror would pass, that enough time would elapse for me to be able to believe that I really hadn’t heard anything at all, that it was all in my imagination. And it was in my imagination, but my imagination was now my only reality. Now my worst nightmare came true. The monster’s feet started to move, they were coming toward me, about to round the corner, slowly, surely, though not, it seemed, without hesitation. I noticed that I too was moving, already about to round a corner myself. My steps became more and more hurried, as did those of the beast. I ran frantically, not even knowing where I was going, or keeping track of where I’d been, thinking perhaps that I could lose the beast. Then I looked down and noticed that my wound had opened up and started bleeding again. I must have scraped it along a hedge as I fled around a sharp corner. My trail of blood would lead the beast to me.

I didn’t have time to stop and stanch the flow of blood, I just kept running. I found myself in new parts of the labyrinth, where a long winding arch took me around a very wide bend. The beast was closing in on me, snorting and grunting, with inhuman, ghastly, terrible sounds. My legs started growing slow and heavy, and I felt I was too slow and that the beast would catch up with me at any moment. Slow and leaden, I tried desperately to run, but the more effort I made, the slower I seemed to be going. Now the beast was right behind me, I could feel its breath on the back of my neck – a spine-tingling, inhuman, brutish odor that seemed to cover my whole back. I let out a terrible scream, I was now in the grips of pure fear. I too felt like an animal. I could not think any more, my animal instincts had taken over my whole body, I was ready to be killed or kill – no reason, no emotion. This wasn’t emotion. This was a primordial survival instinct and with the copious amounts of adrenalin that was pumping through my veins, I was now ready for the worst scenario imaginable. The beastly hot breath kept blowing harder and harder on my neck, burning my skin, searing my flesh. I felt I was getting slower and slower. This would be the point when I should wake up, shivering and frenzied, but assured that I was only having a nightmare. But there was no waking up from this. The heavy breathing was now so close that it seemed to be inside me, even a part of me, as if it were my own. The snorting and the ghastly breathing seemed to be emanating from my own body. The frenzy had reached fever pitch. I was soon to be face to face with the horrible beast, my tormentor. I couldn’t run anymore. If this was the end, let it come, let it devour me, butcher me, drink my blood, and finally do away with me, putting me out of my misery. So I stopped and turned, and there standing before me was no beast at all, but Theseus himself! I was shocked, I was relieved, I was ecstatic. I reached out my hand to him but found my arm was not my own, it was hairy, like that of a wild beast’s. I looked down upon myself and saw that the blood from my wound was still flowing… over my hooves! I looked back up at Theseus and called out to him, to beseech him and beckon to him, but my voice was that of a beast, only unintelligible grunts and snorts. Theseus approached me with his sword, but he had not the look of fear in his eyes. He was tense, like a hunter having ensnared his large, frightful prey, but he looked his fear square in the eyes – in my eyes – and he approached with a noble, majestic air, and iron in his soul. I stood there, hideous, alone, estranged, hunted, afraid, pathetic. The blade came down upon me and took everything away.

Silence. I was still conscious of myself. I opened my eyes. There, lying in front of me, there lay the beast’s severed head. My sword dangled above it, the dark blood dripping into the frozen eyes of the Minotaur. They were still open, stunned but with a hint of indifference - indeed, with a sense of relief at his deliverance.

I looked into the eyes of the Minotaur, eyes that were my own, and for the first time I understood. For years it had pursued me. Now for the first time I felt I had spanned that impossible, ineffable gap that not only separates two beings from each other, but separates us within ourselves and divides us from our potentialities. For the first time I felt I had conquered fear, the fear that lays waiting in that very gap I had traversed, where loneliness and alienation define us – and defile us. The nightmare had abated. The beast and the man, pursuer and pursued, were one. I slew the slayer, I liberated myself from the labyrinth of my own fears. My hands trembled no more, my body ceased with its nervous spasms, my eyes were keen, my hands were steady, my feet were sure. I turned my face from the slain beast and looked up to find salvation from the labyrinth gaping open in front of me. It was the threshold yet again, the same I had entered through. It appeared as if from nowhere. I let the bloodied sword slip from my hand and, without looking back, I left the labyrinth.

11. Catharsis

The beginning of the journey
Is when you become the journey

Your feet are the waves,
Your hands are the oars,
And your fate is the beckoning horizon

I found myself standing once more before the edifice through which I had entered the labyrinth. I heard the wind blowing through the rocks once again, rustling my hair, carrying with it the vigorous smell of brine lofted away from the great blue canopy and in through my nostrils, filling up my lungs, reinvigorating my body. The air smelled fresher, the sounds were livelier, my senses were inundated and saturated with this sudden rediscovered vivacity that thrived all around me. More than anything, I felt an acute sense of relief, as if a great load had been lifted off my chest. I felt new. I even fancied I felt alive. I set forth for the shores where I had been washed up back then, frightened, alone and weary. I was now returning to the scene of my shame, no longer weary but strong, no longer frightened but fiery, and no longer alone but complete in myself. I reached the shoreline and looked out to the wide red horizons. I was ready to return to sea and complete my journey.

I strode forth into the water, until my body was submerged and I simply began swimming. I had no idea where I was going, but I knew the general direction I had to go. And under the water, underneath the waves, I was at ease. Now a cool current would ripple over me, above me, through me, tingling deliciously as it tickled past my skin, and now a warm current would momentarily caress me in its large, maternal hands, transporting me through the water as if I were in a bubble of voluptuousness. The sea was no longer the murky, green, dark mire in which I had encountered Phlebas, but a cool, crisp, almost champagne texture, full of light, and full of life. Shoals of fish flashed their shiny scales in a riot of colors, coral reefs stretched beneath me, teeming with activity, as starfish crawled cautiously, moray eels peeked warily, and octopi danced and twirled intelligently through this bountiful submarine realm.

My limbs felt strong, as if I’d rediscovered them after not having used them for what seemed like eons. And I hadn’t used them, not like this. Never had my limbs boldly drawn me forth, never had they displayed such purposeful propulsion. My limbs had once only served to inhibit me, to ward off change, be it for better or for worse, but it seemed always for worse. My limbs were used to block, and they were fast too, they could avoid anything, deflect, stop, hit, bounce. But never had they propelled me, not like this. My muscles once knew the art of contraction only, they could press themselves into a ball, they could make reflexive jerks in the time of danger, when they perceived the unknown, the uncommon; when they met, in a word, change. But now my muscles stretched, they stretched out and used my hand to ladle the fresh sea brine and swoop it under me, under my body, and away from me, to be swept away in a cacophony of bubbles. My muscles now lengthened with lean, graceful agility, flexible and strong, working as my weapons, as my arms. What a paradox! To think that my arms never were my arms, but now to have discovered the meaning of arms. How preposterously simple, yet how surprisingly difficult to fathom the simplicity. These were now my arms. My whole body now seemed a natural extension of me, to be me, and never had I felt this peculiarly empowering sense of oneness, wholeness, completeness, unity. My arms flailed out powerfully, boosting me on toward the blood-red horizon.

Onward I rushed, not knowing to what, but with purpose nevertheless. The water cleansed me with every stroke. It felt like a rebirth, like a catharsis. Strange and new desires were awakened in me. I felt freed, even though I was wallowing here in the depths of dark hell. I felt free. I had once thought freedom to be something distinct, to be an ideal state of being attained only by being rid of the constraints of a world of images, where perhaps I fancied would be found Plato and Socrates, Porphyry and Plotinus, and a litany of saints from a multitude of creeds. But that attitude now felt too cerebral, too intellectual, a stuffy superstition, the by-product of a superstitious disposition. And for the first time those noble figures seemed to me rather comical. But I now felt that freedom had nothing to do with salvation, with deliverance, with escape; it was not to be found in any ideal realm. Freedom seemed merely, un-romantically, un-idealistically the ability to be what I am. It was the ability to see that there was no deliverance, there was no salvation, there was no ideal realm the promise of which could alleviate my present troubles. Freedom was to lose all hope and rid myself once and for all of the idealistic dogma that had been ingrained in me by thousands of years of Fear – accumulated and perpetually reproduced over the course of each life, and over the course of all life. Freedom for me now was the power of knowing and affirming what I do have and realizing this power to the full. And ironically enough, I found freedom in hell. That’s where I faced my fear, that’s where I conquered it. In heaven, I thought, one can only find an escape.

The waves now grew larger and more robust. I battled on, losing no steam, feeling no weakening in my body and limbs. I could sense I was approaching something ominous and I braced myself for the confrontation.

A Moment on Earth

The day ended like every other day. His tired head grew heavy, his glasses came off and his eyes were rubbed fiercely until he saw geometric shapes reflect off the inside of his eyelids. He looked outside from his office and it was another grey, cloudy day. Surely it would rain again. He knew there was about a sixty percent chance that the weather would be the same as it was the day before. He turned off his computer and he slipped his books back into his bag, ready for the walk home. He would have his customary late-afternoon coffee with butterscotch cookies, and he would say his customary farewells to his secretary and colleagues before setting off down the road, out of the faculty, through the park, past all the identical rows of red brick houses and on the way back to his university accommodation, his room and his cupboard and his sink and his single, unadorned light bulb, and his woolen blanket. And sure enough, it started to rain. At first he put up with it stubbornly, but soon he found himself jumping puddles and running from flimsy cover to flimsy cover, until he was standing under a tree with the remnants of a newspaper's classifieds section sagging over his head. Water dripped from his beard and his glasses, wet blotches formed on the elbow patches of his tweed jacket, as he frowned at the long, dark, lonely street that he would have to cross sooner or later – preferably later. He decided to wait, but the rain only grew stronger. He looked out at the ubiquitous spray sent up by the large, heavy and endless drops of water that seemed suspended a foot over the length of the road, and he became mesmerized by the sound of the perpetual, soothing sound of the rain hitting the road. Then lightning flashed and he heard the boom of thunder as he came to from his stupor and decided to brave the torrent. He hurled himself out into the road and began running as fast as his lugubrious legs would permit. He went in and out of puddles, the light of the few street lamps were insufficient and soon he was soaked to the bones. Then, jumping another large puddle, he miscalculated and fell in, a foot deep, soaking his feet, shoes, socks and all. He lost his balance, and his bag and books went hurling into the rain. He frantically bent down to pick them up, fumbling and angry. He was furious at the rain, he was so furious that he just gave up. He jumped up and down, at first with rage, but the rage gradually gave way to relief – sheer and utter relief. He was so soaked, he was so angry, it didn't matter any more. He just didn't care anymore. The water was even a comfort to him now. It was the single most relieving moment of his life. And his cries of fury became cries of joy as he jumped up and down and started dancing in the torrential downpour. He scraped the books and bag off the asphalt and without looking back he just walked on, skipped and jumped – sometimes in small circles – laughing and shouting the whole time, like a child. He soon threw off his coat, and tore off his shirt, took off his shoes and socks, stuffed what would fit into his bag with his wet books, and carried the rest in his hands. He never knew just how warm and embracing the rain could be. And on the way he met one other person on the road, one other person who was not cowering and running for cover from the rain. The person – a teenage girl – was sad and even through the rain he thought he could see her tears. He ran up to her, spread his arms out and smiling insanely he said – shouted, rather, in an uncontrollable voice – "Have you ever seen this before? Did you ever know it could be like this before? My god, you have to..." and, lost for words, in mid-sentence, he just ran on, running like a madman, half-naked, through the parks, through the deserted streets, and past the identical rows of red brick houses, back to his humble, one-room abode. .

When he got back to his tenement he sat in the communal kitchen nursing his microwave cream-and-chicken soup. He sat looking out the window as pale, listless faces huddling together under hoods and under multicolored umbrellas shuffled in and out miserably around him.

He felt like the boy who had come across a magic gateway to another world in the children's books he'd read all those years ago.

12. The Sea of Stars

“Mother, tell me, when I grow up how will it be?”
“You will be strong and the world will be your playground.”
“And how will I live? How will I buy bread and eat? ”
“Do you get hungry at the playground?”
“No. But afterwards, yes.”
“Then there’s no need to worry. When the world is your playground there is no hunger.”
“Is there sleep afterward? What about sleep? ”
“There is sleep. There is only sleep.”
“Good night mother”
“Good night son.”

My swimming evolved into a rhythm so that my strokes now sent me into a hypnotic state of mind; still conscious, but in a different state of consciousness. My body seemed to function automatically and my mind seemed totally detached yet alert as it strayed back and forth over the span of vague memories and eventually became immersed in its own awareness. I felt like I was observing myself from another perspective, from outside of my own body, even as I was still swimming. My consciousness had become schizophrenic, rather than my personality. And as the faceless and nameless memories came back to me, I remembered some of those moments in life – few and far between – when I felt a delicious sense of my own appositeness, when I was doing something so completely, so fully, that it was effortless, almost perfect, so much so that I could detach my mind and think of anything I wanted even as my body continued to perform its task immaculately, no matter how complex, no matter how difficult. I felt this sense of completeness of being now again in death, now that I had slain the fearful monster that had chased me from within, that was once a debilitating part of me. I felt it now as I watched my arms and legs and head and lungs and heart propel me on through the waters of this infernal ocean. Even my memories had evolved from those of faces and names and places to the memories of feelings and states of mind from my time on earth.

After a while I must have lost consciousness altogether. When I opened my eyes, I was lying on my back, floating along the warm sea in lush darkness. Above me there stretched across the sky the most dazzling array of stars. The darkness lit up with those stars, millions of them, it seemed, sparkling, dancing, twinkling, reflecting off the surface of the sea so that the universe must have seemed endless from anywhere I looked, from every direction. There were only stars. I made no effort to stay afloat, nor did I feel anything but warmth and awe. It had been so long since I’d felt such an overwhelming sense of ease, not since my childhood in fact, lying on a lawn and watching the world go by, safe in the belief of youth, in the belief that it would never end, not for me. And yet here I was, beyond the end when life had left me and fate had plunged me into the inferno; here I was in the same, ironic state of bliss. As the little waves rippled beneath me and carried me away, I don’t recall ever having felt safer than when I was lying there in the middle of an uncharted, infernal ocean.

And yet I knew something, some event, was approaching. It always does. I lay my head back upon the warm and inviting waters, awaiting my fate. Then I noticed the waters become more and more agitated under me, more turbulent, as if something large was passing beneath me. There was a flutter on either side of me. They were like shoals of fish speeding away, all in the same direction. There were also greater beasts of the sea, the size of dolphins and sharks, also speeding away as fast as they could. I looked off into the distance, from whence they were fleeing, to see if I could descry anything, but the night was still opaque and all that could be seen were the stars above and the reflection of the stars around me. The underwater commotion now passed and gave way to silent tranquility. Not even the water rippled. There is nothing as eerie as complete and utter silence. It becomes as unbearable after a while as a loud and constant shriek or buzz. Your mind starts playing tricks on you and begins to fill the silence with its own machinations, now that the constraints of noise have been lifted and you have been taken aback by a serene anarchy left in the wake of the comforting and familiar power of noise. Many think anarchy would be a state of noise and clamor, but it isn’t. Anarchy is silence, and it is not peaceful or soothing. It’s terrifying. We fill this unbearable silence with noises, words, faces, names, gods, ideals, meaning, archons – in a word, power. The void frightens us, the anarchy oppresses us, and silence is a state of distress for us. We seek a frame of reference, familiarity, a patriarch, substance, explanation. Thus we fill the void with things at once meaningless and yet significant.

I looked out again over the almost indiscernible horizon where sky and sea melded harmoniously, and still I could not see a thing. Was my mind now playing games on me, like a mischievous imp? Was my imagination now being used against me? I looked up again and thought I saw something move in the far distance, but I wasn’t sure. It was as if I were in that semi-conscious state between waking life and dreams where a sound or a sight is wholly strange, its origin uncertain so that your imagination fills in the lacuna of reason, but never along the precepts of that same reason that is found lacking. Rather it fills in the lacuna with irrational fancies spurred by dormant fears that seek just the right moment to escape and surge forth from their subconscious lairs so as to pounce on your insecurities. I looked up again and this time let my gaze linger in the far distance. I was sure I was seeing nothing. I lay my head back down and continued to gaze up at the endless star-swept sky.

And then I heard something, what sounded like the rhythmic trickling sound emanated by oars. Was my mind still playing games? How could I tell? If I was out of my mind then how could I know that I was out of my mind? So I decided to just relax and go along for the ride. I kept listening to make sure I heard the noise, before I lifted my head to look. Yes, I was certain. I looked up ahead of me, slightly to my left and there I saw a very distant figure on the horizon. I kept my eyes on this figure as it grew larger and larger, until I could make out something of its shape. Naturally enough, it seemed a rowboat, but I saw nobody on it, nobody seemed to be rowing. As it got closer and closer I was unable to see over the hull, lying as I was on the surface of the sea, so I wasn’t sure if there was anybody propelling this craft at all. The wooden rowboat was now by my side and the rowing ceased. The little rowboat seemed somehow familiar, though more like a feeling than as a thing. I was expecting something to happen, for someone to pop their head over the gunwale, but there was nothing. I decided to swim over to the rowboat and pull myself up to see what was going on. As I did so I peeped over and into the vessel and there was nothing, nobody, not a soul within. I hauled myself into the rowboat and took the oars and decided to row myself. It seems that this was the purpose of the vessel. I had no idea really of where I was heading, I had no sense of direction, nor were there any discernible points of reference or possible destinations that presented themselves out at sea. It was just one big canopy of bright stars and dark waters. The waters were so calm that it seemed like I was rowing my little craft through the heavens, stars below me, stars above me, before me and behind me. Only the sound of the oars breaking the surface of the water challenged the silence that held the universe in delicate balance.

To whom do I explain this suspended moment
Shared between a million eyes and the star-sprinkled sea,
A lonely boat waking the silent oceans, and the silent depths
Of a boundless eternity

Like ripples that stretch beyond and away
To the furthest reaches of this timeless sea,
So do my thoughts still linger
Upon the remains of my memories
And the ashes of my dreams

And perhaps someday, long ahead and far away,
These same ripples will return to me,
Like rabid waves washing me back to their roots,
When the ripples were but silent witnesses,
From the long forgotten annals
Of an unfulfilled destiny

The trickling water pitter pattered from my oars along the surface of the sea before submerging themselves again in their submissive, mesmerizing rhythm. Every time the oars dipped in and out of the water it looked like they were scooping up hundreds of stars and sprinkling them out across the sky that reflected beneath the rowboat. I had a rest and found that whether I was rowing or not, the little vessel kept going in the same direction, gently, silently, being drawn - or propelled, or compelled - by a secret force. I gazed up at the stars. Then I looked out at the horizon and could see the reddish hue beginning to grow in the distance once more. I lay on my back and looked at the stars one last time before nestling myself into the inviting arms of Morpheus.

13. The Isle of Knowledge

Triskaidekaphobes, repent!
Supper will be served to all,
Regardless of number,
Absolved of intent

I opened my eyes with the first glimmer of light. Sleep (or what had resembled sleep) had been such sweet respite for me after the nightmarish insomnia that had subsumed my journey thus far in hell. When we live in fear and pass our days facing our bitter past, sleep is no longer a comfort, and awakening to face another day just leaves us more fatigued than ever. For the sleep of the guilty is no resting period. In sleep you run, as you do in life, you keep running all night, from faceless, shapeless, nameless ogres, ogres that care not for you or for who you are, but merely hunt you as the manifestation of the fear that they feed upon to survive. Even those ogres that live in the land of dreams need nourishment, and they have large appetites and expensive tastes.

I got up and looked forward from the prow to find menacing hues of red glowing out on the horizon. The halcyon sea radiated richly from the reflection of the red sky above and there was still not a ripple to be seen. It was as calm, silent and soothing as it had been last night, as if the entire ocean had been cast under a spell and, itself hypnotized, sought in turn to hypnotize those that voyaged upon it. I looked to all sides trying to spot some sign of life or land. I was surprised when I did, moments later, for the land was closer than I could’ve imagined, but it was so low and flat (in fact just barely above sea level) that I couldn’t see it until it was almost literally under my hull. The rowboat glided effortlessly upon the sandy red shores of this barren isle, the transition between water and sand only being noticed by the gradual slowing of the rowboat until it came to a smooth halt. I brushed my fingers along the surface of the water, and then through the fine, tingly grains of sand which gradually displaced the water, enjoying what seemed an amplification - or a refinement - of my senses. I set foot on the sandy terrain and found there was nothing to be seen on the whole barren isle. A breeze arose and I felt the little stinging grains of sand that it whipped up against my legs as I walked forth.

I decided to explore this flat isle. It was strange to think it was so vast and yet almost invisible from sea, at least until one was almost directly upon it. There wasn’t so much as a blade of grass, a reed, a fen, nothing; just red, fine sand. I looked behind me instinctually, as one does toward an object of security when confronted by an unfamiliar circumstance, and was pleased to see that my little rowboat remained moored on the sand. I did notice something in the distance as I walked forth, something that resembled a tempestuous little whirlwind. As I got closer I saw that it was a figure… a human-like figure, raising sand as it did some sort of circular dance. It seemed to have four limbs, a head and a torso similar to humans, except that its head was massive, as if it had a mane. It was still far away but it seemed to be jumping up and down and whirling like a mad dervish. I made for it cautiously until I could distinctly make out its features. The wind picked up around me and the flying grains of sand continued to sting my skin. The only sound I could here were those tiny hurling grains of sand tumbling through the air and over the surface of the island and over my skin. The creature remained either unaware of my encroaching presence or was otherwise oblivious to it. It was dancing, flailing, tossing as if in a corroboree, and as it did so, I could hear it uttering what seemed like a chant, over and over again, like a bacchanalian dithyramb. The creature had its eyes closed and seemed to have lost all sense of consciousness. I now stood only a few meters from it and could make out the words it was chanting. Its head had a great mane composed of long and thick braids of hair that swung around wildly so that I couldn’t see its face clearly. But I did see that its demeanor was sorrowful and intense to the point of obsession. Its voice was masculine and sounded like a loud whisper, as if it were chanting a secret to itself...

I have to keep on walking
I have to keep on walking
The voices keep on stalking
I have to keep on walking

I tore my soul
And searched for more
The silence
It was haunting

I have to keep on walking
I have to keep on walking

That this foul wind
May never carry
The secrets of my longing

I have to keep on walking
I have to keep on walking

Earth laid bare
Men laid bare
Barren prophets crowing

I have to keep on walking
I have to keep on walking

My sweet princess
In days gone by
Did to me whisper softly

Why must you keep on walking?
Please, cease your walking

Amidst raging winds
And thunder hard
Fast and ever rolling
I had to keep on walking
I must keep on walking

And then the dithyramb would be repeated as the creature danced around, arms flailing, panting heavily as it recited its poem, eyes still sealed, body tensed to the point of convulsion, nerves protruding, muscles taut, a strange creature if ever I’ve seen one. And I didn’t know what it was. I stood there watching it chant and recite the poem over and over, not knowing if I should interrupt it, though I was leaning more toward the idea of not doing so. So I sat on the sand and watched the corroboree for one unfold before me in a hypnotizing trance. The voice remained constant, beastly, droning, monotonous. The movements were flowing and repetitive, the words were repeated so often they now seemed to lose all their meaning and all their context. The repetition wrenched the words out of any syntactic logic, out of the inherent significations of the language, out of the system of signs that they once belonged to. I could hear the same words over and over, but each and every phrase, even each and every word, gradually became so foreign and strange to me as to become unintelligible, as if it were a language I did not know. In fact the significance of the words lay no longer in their linguistic meaning but in their mere utterance. And so I started to hear an underlying message I could not hear before, a message - indeed, another language - that was created through the mesmerizing rhythm. The breaks and sounds, the panting, the estranged syllables, the rhythmic pattern, the tone of the voice all started to form new meanings and new logic in my mind. And then, all of a sudden, I heard a voice talking to me in this strange, new, ineffable language. But it seemed like gibberish, unintelligible and foreign – not the foreignness of a human, but the foreignness of an alien being that did not communicate in the same way as humans.

I noticed now that the chant seemed to be fading into the background. And then I saw the creature stop, turn its head to me, throw its hair back and reveal its face. It was like the face of a dead man, with dead skin, bristly, lifeless and grey, and with big eyes that remained closed. Then it opened its eyes and I was startled. Its eyes were hollow, mere ebon nothingness. Yet they seemed to be gazing at me, straight at me. The chanting continued in the background, droning on, albeit unintelligibly. The words of the chant had all lost their meaning. The rhythm of the chant was all that remained. The creature approached and sat in front of me. It communicated to me through the chant. Words were not words, but a mixture of sound, feeling, memory, thought, adrenalin and emotion that acted in unison to convey the meanings. There were no words. There were no distinct subjects, no dialectic of speaker and listener. I just knew, I just understood, I just saw, I just heard. And I was amazed how simple it was, and how relieving, as if anything, everything, that has ever tried to convey empathy and understanding, that has ever tried to bridge the alienation between two beings, or all beings, was now conveyed and communicated in this one moment of true understanding, of true knowing, of true seeing, without the representation of words. I felt as if I’d both amplified and shrunk and become everything at once… I was so vast that everything was within me, and I was so small that I was within everything. No longer did I feel disproportionate with the universe, no longer did I feel too small or too large, estranged or alienated, anomalous or distant. I felt a balance, I felt an equilibrium, as when I was submerged in the ocean. I simply was. I felt a sense of perfect belonging.

The chanting which had subsided into the background now grew louder again. The creature remained fixated on me, seeing me through its hollowed eye sockets behind which lay pure blackness, pure nothingness. The dithyramb grew louder and louder. The creature continued swirling and shaking. I noticed sand was flying around me and I felt like I was twirling in a dizzying spin. I didn’t remember having got up on my feet. My body seemed tight, but in rapid, swirling motion. My voice now seemed to become one with the chanting. I felt my eyes were closed, but I could see around me. Slowly, my body started to loosen up. My heart was throbbing, my brain was throbbing. I lost all sense of self, I lost consciousness, but I was still aware of everything around me. I had no thoughts, but there was a myriad of images flashing in my mind in synch with the bacchanalia… random images, forming, deforming, reforming, transforming, now a child, now a phoenix, now a satyr, now my father, a whole illogical whirlwind of phantasmagoria. As the trance took over my whole being, the entire formless chaotic mayhem started to assume a very ordered rhythm, and each and every sound, every space, every movement of my body flowed effortlessly and in total synchronicity so that I had no more conscious control over anything. The voice emanated of its own accord, through its own will, as did my movements, my chanting, as unconscious and beyond my will as my heart beating or my lungs breathing. Order was born from the wild reverie. I then stopped, and the chanting stopped, and I stood amid a cloud of dust and sand. And as the sand settled around me, covering over my footprints in the sand, left in a wild circular trail, I realized there was no creature any longer. I looked around me, my heart still beating in frenzy. I saw nothing. I was the creature.

Then I opened my eyes. Everything was as it had been before. I was sitting in the sand, the creature was dancing and chanting in its corroboree in front of me, the long wild hair of its mane still thrown over its face which remained invisible. And it was still seemingly oblivious of me, chanting on with its beastly voice…

I have to keep on walking
I have to keep on walking

I closed my eyes once more and saw the creature’s vacuous eyes looking into mine again, only millimeters away from me. It communicated one last thing to me. I understood it, I knew it, and yet I couldn’t think about it or put it into words. It was an unutterable, ineffable essence. I opened my eyes again and there was the creature spinning in a whirlwind of sand as before, chanting and dancing and unconscious of me.

I headed back to my little vessel, never looking behind me. I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was the creature and I shared, what it had just communicated to me. It wasn’t even that I’d forgotten; I just didn’t know how to remember something that had no form or shape or explanation in the first place, something that had no words to describe, that was beyond language. It was like I had shared a secret with my own subconscious and which could only ever make sense in a dream.

A Moment on Earth

It was still dark outside when the priest entered the cell. The prisoner had his head in his hands and his eyes were fixed on the cold stone floor of his confines. He heard his cell door open and close with the same metallic clamor for the last time. He thought of how he'd gotten used to it, how he'd expected to hear it every day at the same time, at the same hour, without fail. These small familiar sounds had become a part of his life, just as now they had become a part of his death. He heard the priest enter and take a seat on the bed next to him. The priest said some things, asked him some questions about whether he'd like to confess this or atone for that. But the prisoner just kept looking down at his own feet. He didn't listen to the priest. His mind was racing. He'd never had so many thoughts before, he'd never felt so overwhelmed by his mind before. In his final hours he fancied he was even a philosopher and thought that maybe he could have really become one if he'd had a chance, if only there was a way to stimulate these feelings and thoughts without the looming imminence of knowing that one was about to die. And then he heard the ominous footsteps of polished black shoes walking down the sterile grey corridor that would witness his final journey in life. He took one last look around his cell and he thought it would be strange to finally leave what had become his home, what had become his idea of normalcy. When he looked up he saw the solemn, ghostly faces of the prison guards and the priest. They looked at him with fear, even a sense of disgust, except for the priest. He thought then how it was often the case that the horror of a person’s circumstances aroused horror toward the person themselves, because we know that it’s only a matter of fortune or coincidence that any person should not have indeed been our own selves, or that any circumstance should not also – and instead – have included us. The priest, however, seemed to be handling it like a well-seasoned professional. The prisoner gave a semi-audible chuckle to himself and stood up and made his way out of his cell never to return to it. Each guard grabbed one of his arms and they all followed the priest in a bizarre ritual that seemed comic to him at the moment. But he didn't chuckle again, he couldn't. He felt weary and tired, he felt relieved that the time had come. He had known this day was coming for years. He had lived every day of his incarceration on death row thinking about this moment and about how he could ever face it. But now all he felt was relief. The fear had long since given way to resignation. They had now seated him and had begun shaving his hair off. He felt the thick hoary tufts tickle his face and his neck as they fell around him, and he thought of himself as an oak tree in autumn, defoliating before the long winter chill, brave and alone, watching its brown and red and withered leaves fall around him, heralding death and cold, and an end. But the tree still stood, brave and firm, and he thought it was amazing that it did. He thought it absolutely amazing, the courage that a tree must have.

He entered the brightly lit room and saw the chair for the first time. It looked like an altar, a priest and an executioner all in one, and it seemed to be looking at him. Nothing, he thought, not even a shovel or a bulldozer, represented such utility so faithfully, so brutally, so honestly. The power that it exuded was terrible. Every step toward the chair seemed to be suspended in time. A shiver ran up his spine as he sat on the chair. As they strapped him in he felt the cold embrace of the chair and it made his skin crawl. It was as if death had embraced him. They tied him down and set wires on his bare skin and on his head. The wires felt strange on his freshly shaven head, and when it was all done, he felt the bitter, helpless death grip of the wires, like tentacles of the death chair. He looked up as the guards walked away. He looked to his left and saw people watching him with the same fearful and disgusted looks on their faces that the guards had had but which the priest had eschewed. He saw an eye and a tooth in each and every one of their faces, and it was his own eye and his own tooth he saw. And soon everything seemed right, as if everything was for the first time in its right place then, so close to the end. Everyone was silent and solemn, as if they were in a church. Everyone had taken their places, everyone had fulfilled their duty, everyone was acting out their part brilliantly, everything was... in a word… perfect.

In the split-second that embraced the last gasp between life and death, he had one final thought, and even as it came to him he knew it was a strange final thought. He saw himself and his friend as a child and they were 8 years old and it was autumn. They were in a field behind his house where they had found a dead bird while they were playing under a big oak tree. They decided to bury it at the foot of the tree because they felt that a bird should be buried, that any animal should be buried, because they knew it was the right thing to do. They dug a little grave and they placed the bird inside his grave and they covered it up with the soil and the dry, red leaves that lay at the foot of this tree. They stood over the grave for a brief moment. As they were about to leave, he had an idea he thought was important. So they carved a cross and their initials into the tree and they wrote "BIRD". He thought it was perfect.

In that split-second flash when life, death, ecstasy and pain coalesced at the threshold, he felt an overwhelming sense of joy. He felt… in a word… perfect.

14. The Seven Isles of Sin

Seven was a number ingrained in my mind,
Seven were the ways to earthly delight,
Seven were the columns erected in my time,
And seven were the horrors that have become my plight

I) The Isle of Ego-Mongers

My body is my cage, and these eyes are my tormentors

My rowboat glided off the sandy beach as I jumped in and set off on the sea, along the coast of the isle I had just left behind. I looked to port and saw only a small, meandering twister oscillating to and fro, bringing up the sand of the isle, and then gently easing it down as it slowly disappeared, collapsing upon itself like an unheard symphony.

Soon the flat isle was lost behind me and the open seas once again stretched out majestically as before. The small waves broke the silence as the little rowboat surged forth, sure of its path and its destination - the only things it knew and I didn’t. The red skies still dominated the horizon out in the distance. The smell of the brine and the soft sea breeze filled my nostrils with their salty vigor, inundating me with their primordial substance. A seaborne solitude suffused my spirit with empathy rather than loneliness, unity rather than estrangement, courage rather than fear. The water’s surface was my blanket from the infernal red glow that hung on the horizon and over my head, acting like my savior, like all the inhibitions that acted as my savior on earth when all my exhibitions failed to substantiate.

I spotted more islands in the distance, the first of them a large, steep, craggy, rocky island, seemingly just as barren and inhospitable as the one I’d left behind. The islands were large and of varying sizes and shapes. I could make out a chain of them stretching out ahead of me, far out to the horizon, like gatekeepers guarding the ends of the universe. The crimson sky above and the deep seas below glowed beautifully off the distant islands in vivid colors of red, yellow, green, blue and gold, as if they were the paint strokes of a divine hand. As I approached the first of these islands I realized just how high its cliffs soared above me. But there was something strange and eerie about it. The closer I approached, the more I noticed that there was indeed movement on the island, indeed, there was movement within the rocks and cliffs and the shore, a slow and gradual grinding without any particular pattern, without any discernible meaning or cause. It seemed the hard earth and the sheer rocks were moving of their own accord. I looked down into the water and noticed it was getting shallower as we approached. I could see through the clear water to the seabed bellow. I noticed something strange there too. There were large, grey, round rocks at the bottom, and long thin black seaweed that was swaying elegantly with the current under water. When the waters were no deeper than a few feet, I looked over the side and I saw flash before me, under the surface of the water, what were unmistakably human eyes, looking straight up at me. I was stunned and fell back, taking my eyes off the water. I looked over the side again and saw that those were no rocks below, but corpses that lined the seafloor. And the seaweed was in fact the hair of the dead swaying underwater. At that point the rowboat hit the shores of the isle with a thud against something dense yet yielding and malleable, certainly not rocks. I raised my head up and saw, to my horror, that those high craggy cliffs were not composed of stone, but were in fact a gargantuan mass of dead and dying human bodies. Faces looked out from this gruesome heap in agony, with glazed, lost eyes, amid serpentine limbs that intertwined like the viperous hairs of Medusa. A feeble, sickly hissing, moaning and creaking sound could be heard all around me. I wanted to get of the boat and push myself off this hideous beach, but as soon as I got out and jumped off, I realized I’d landed on more bodies. A face flattened under my feet as I felt cold skin and hair under my toes. I startled back and fell over, at once swarmed by this hapless, swarming mass of flesh, hearing hisses and moans emanate with every touch of the meaty ground, feeling their moving mouths and fingers tickle me hideously from under my fallen body. Tongues were felt on the soles of my feet, dozens of cold hands grasped meekly at me as if looking for succor in their eternal damnation, greasy hair rubbed into my face, jagged fingernails probed my skin.

I tried to get up, sticking my fingers into a pair of eyes as I did, feeling cold, unctuous saliva in my ear, and a viscous mouth licking and suckling my chest. As soon as I stepped anywhere my feet sank into a pool of reeking flesh so that movement was extremely difficult. Hands clasped weakly around my feet and legs trying to drag me down with them. I had to get back to the rowboat, but the swarming mass was slowly pushing me inland, away from the boat. Boney, horrid fingers, grizzly undead faces, and the horrid, unceasing moans were sending shivers up and down my spine. The smell was horrific. I fell over again and immediately felt the now nauseating humidity of dead mouths and tongues and cold skin cover my entire body. Dozens of arms – and even mouths and teeth – grabbed me and started to pull me in. Although they were all weak limbs and hands that held me, there were so many that no sooner did I free myself of one pair, another would fasten around me. Now the undead even had my neck in their clammy hands. I felt my legs submerge, followed by my torso. I was desperate and started fighting to escape. I noticed there was a white trail just a couple of meters away from me. I tried to force my way toward it. I was within arms reach of the trail, even though I was by now submerged up to my chest in the fleshy mass. I saw on that white trail what looked like a large, thick bone – a human femur bone. I felt cold fingers and long nails now all over my head, meekly clutching my hair, pressing into my cheeks and digging into my eyes and ears. They almost had me. The bone that lay on the trail was still just out of my reach. I was now submerged up to my neck. I felt the hideous pressure of writhing putrid flesh crushing all around me. Was this how it would be? Was this my final torment? Was this where I would pass an eternity in guilt, fear, submission and shame?

I felt my teeth clench. I saw that with just one push I could reach the bone and at least have a weapon to fight off these creatures. I would not be one of them. I felt a creature crawl over my head with a contented grin, trying to finally secure my arms and – thus – my fate. I waited till its head was in reach, and then I let loose with a swift blow of my elbow behind me, hitting the undead creature on the side of its face with a loud cracking sound. Its face split in two as it let out a meek grown, and it crumpled and sank back into the mass of flesh. At that moment I felt a few of the creatures let me loose in their surprise and fear. This was their mistake, for having been given an inch to move I conjured up all the strength in my body and I kicked back with my feet, crushing the weak flesh behind harder and harder as with each kick I found more and more space to recoil and strike. I crushed the undead behind me into a pulp with blows from my legs. When I freed myself sufficiently I made a last grasp for the femur on the gravelly road, and it was all over. As soon as I had the bone in my hand I began swinging left and right. The rotten bodies crumbled like clay under my blows, skulls cracking, bones breaking, skin ripping, every blow giving rise to a loud thud and an inhuman shriek. With blow after blow I had annihilated dozens of them until there was around me a pulverized mass of remains, nothing more. Now completely freed, I stood atop this small isle of destroyed flesh and jumped on to the relative safety of the white road. The islet of destruction I had left behind was almost immediately swallowed up and supplanted by new undead bodies from below that ate the remains of those I had destroyed as they made their way up. When I dared look down again, I noticed that the ground of this trail was bleached white and composed only of crushed human bones - a trail of death on an island of the undead. All around the trail the mass of flesh continued to swarm and try and reach out for me, to drag me in, but I stood in the middle of the trail of bones and they couldn’t reach far enough. How many had made it here and been able to escape as I had, eventually to leave this trail of bones that was now my salvation? How many lives over how many millennia had passed this very trail, and perhaps contributed to its creation? The undead, it seemed, were especially afraid of death, and this trail of bones was something they could not dare face.

I walked up the trail as bones cracked and crumpled beneath my feet. The trail wound around the mountains of the undead, at one point becoming quite steep. After a hard, slippery climb I found myself on the summit of one of the cliffs of flesh, overlooking the whole reeking island. There was no sight ghastlier than this. A whole moving, floating island of rancid misery lay under my feet. Below me, the grim shores; behind me, the high deathly plateau of yet more endless bodies. I followed the trail of death that stretched on into this plateau, looking left and right and seeing thousands of faces on either side of my path; some old, some younger, some men, some women, some hideously deformed. It was one massive pile of agony. At one point I stopped and crouched down on the trail, just out of reach of the undead. As I did so my foot scraped against a sharp piece of bone - the end of a broken rib bone - that was lying on the trail. I noticed it reopened the old wound on my heel which I had procured on my trek toward the labyrinth. I paid it no heed but went on looking out on the fields of the undead. I observed their movements, their expressions, and they all in fact seemed wholly unaware of me, blind and unconscious. As I rose and took my first step, I inadvertently sprayed some drops of blood from my wound in amongst the undead, and into the mouth of one creature in particular. It groaned and shook and cried in its low, whispering voice, no intelligible words, just the look and sound of pure pain and torment. Then all of a sudden its head rose above the others and its eyes opened and turned to face me dead on, staring at me, still and silent, aware of me. This caused me to jump up with fright. A foot pressed its cheek, and a sharp fingernail cut through its lip, but there was no blood of its own, just dead dangling flesh. The eyes looked straight at me with pupils dilated and with a look of intelligence and liveliness in its features. The creature slowly licked the drops of blood I had accidentally fed it, as if savoring every drop. This was eerie, but I didn’t look away, expecting the creature to actually say something or do something.

The mutual staring between us seemed to last for a long time until finally something did happen. The creature’s lips moved slightly, not to moan and groan, but as if trying to remember how to speak, trying to formulate syllables and words. A low, deep, dead and cold air emanated from its mouth but there was no intelligible sound. The creature tried again, to no avail. I was losing hope and was still trying to figure out where I recognized the face from, when all of a sudden I heard a belabored and heavy voice try to speak. I couldn’t at first make out what it was saying. It tried again and all I heard was a long hissing. The creature stopped, still looking at me, regrouping its strength, and then, with a final forceful effort, said: “Blood.”

I didn’t know what it meant. I waited and watched for more. The creature waited also, trying to recuperate from the frightful effort it must have cost for it to utter even a single word. Then it spoke again, clearer and more voluble: “give… me… blood,” it said with its croaking voice.

I staggered back before recouping myself and then spoke to the creature.

“Who are you? Or… who were you?”

The creature seemed not to hear, or did not pay attention, but simply repeated itself, “Blood, give me blood.” As it said this I noticed its feeble attempt to stretch out its hand to plead with me, like a mendicant vampire.

I was at first loathe to feed it any blood. But curiosity was getting the better of me. I picked up the same rib bone that had cut into my flesh and I forced my cut open even more, causing fresh blood to seep forth. I hovered my foot above the creature’s mouth as it tilted its head backward and extended its dry, cold tongue in anticipation of the blood that would soon flow down its throat. At once the creature seemed in ecstasy, closing its eyes, moving its head to and fro, groaning with pleasure. Strength returned to it with the blood, as did color, life, and animation amid this sickly sea of grey flesh. The creature’s hair suddenly began to lengthen, liven up and turn golden. The eyes opened and those too were gaining color and vivacity. The creature’s skin was rapidly assuming a golden hue, as were its cheeks. The rotted, black teeth grew back, the muscles of its neck, its arms and legs grew back also, and soon its hands became the hands not just of a living man in the full bloom of life, but like the very hands of a nobleman. It was indeed a man. Stretching his arms out and pushing himself up by pressing upon the faces of other bodies – both of which cracked, and broke under the pressure – the man rose slowly out of the bog of the undead. First his torso emerged and then his legs, as he wriggled himself free of the squirming bed of filth from which he had arisen. He took one long step onto the trail of death that I was treading. He was my height and was the epitome of male beauty. He now looked more familiar than ever, even though I wasn’t sure if I had ever seen his face before.

“You have given me respite - however brief - from my eternal suffering. For that I thank you, traveler. It has been long since I have sipped blood and long since I have spoken the tongue of men.”

“What is this island? Why are you here?”

“This is the island of ego-mongers, where all the vainglorious and self-obsessed souls spanning the millennia congregate and putrefy together over eternity, rotting and decomposing endlessly, but unable to leave, still seeking as they do recognition, still wanting eyes to look at them, ears to hear them, hands to touch them, arms to hold them, legs to wrap around them, penises and vaginas to fuck them, all the while putrefying helplessly, unable to let go, seeking in their oblivion more and more bodies, eyes, ears, limbs to swarm around them, to worship them, touch them, but also to hide them, to hide their putrefaction from each other, to hide their ugliness behind a wall of swarming flesh. Thus the vain ego-mongers feed off each other, to kill each other as they love each other, in helpless agony and shame. This is the island you have come upon. So tell me traveler, why are you here?”

“I was… I guess I was… brought here,” I offered indecisively.

“Brought here? Nobody is brought here. You have brought yourself here. If it seems something, someone, some force has brought you here, then that force was merely following you, no matter if it may seem to the contrary. So I will ask you again, why are you here?”

I didn’t know how to answer. He saw my hesitation and the befuddled look on my face, and let it rest. His purpose perhaps was merely to put a question in my head, rather than actually provoke an answer. We walked on down the path of bones that stretched across the grey, writhing plateau. We were silent for a while. A dry breeze whispered eerily across the plateau and the calm, infernal sky above contrasted hauntingly with the white trail and the grey writhing mass below.

“You will recognize people here,” my companion said, after some time. “You will find friends and relatives here, you will find great men of history, great men of genius here, you will find poor men here too, poor, unknown, suffering men and women, who never had a name, who never knew fame, and could never reconcile themselves to it, who continue to linger in their state of angst, anger and hatred, being eaten up perpetually by their own torment. Look there,” he said as he pointed to one deformed figure that was only a meter away from the side of our trail.

I saw one of the sickly host of undead devouring itself. Its cracked, greenish-purple mouth stretched as first its feet and legs, and then its whole torso and its arms entered and were chewed on, gnawed on, by the creature’s rotted, grizzly teeth. The whole body was consumed and bits of dead, bloodless flesh dangled from the sides of the creature’s mouth. From the whole lumpy, round mass that was head and stomach, there protruded once again the arms and legs and form of its devoured and regurgitated body, ready to be eaten again, in rage, in spite, in agony, in hunger – an endlessly self-consuming, egotistical hunger.

My guide now pointed out people who would be known to me. He veered off our path and amongst the undead, plunged his arm into the swarming mass and pulled out a head. It was that of an elderly woman.

“Here you have Teresa, damned among the ego-mongers,” he said with a look of contempt in his face as he held her head by the hair and let her mangled body dangle beneath his clenched fist. “She used the poor and their poverty, the sick and their sickness, the helpless and their helplessness, to gain all the favor of heaven, to build her ego-spirit upon a world of misery and decay, all without seeking to eradicate that misery, but to help perpetuate it, to feed off of it for the sake of making those leprous masses the ultimate tower of sacrifice with which to climb to her own empyrean glory.”

As he finished he gave one more contemptuous glance into her dead, empty, unconscious eyes and yellow wrinkled face before tossing her back into the rotting island flesh. I saw her sink back into her eternal misery and disappear with groans and twitching limbs, before fading once more, back into the oblivion she once thought she could evade.

My host carried on, picking out bodies from the writhing mass that he was treading over. He went a little way and then plunged his arms back in, probing a little before drawing another body out. This time it was the body of a man, eyes looking skyward, blood coagulated on his forehead, his dark skin grown pale, his black, frizzy hair gone grey and lifeless.

“Here you have the greatest ego-monger of all. Isa, a self-proclaimed son of god, whose egotism stretched to such proportions as to give his own life for the sake of becoming the savior of mankind. He too used god to elevate himself to heaven, and he too, rather than right the evils he perceived in the world, sought rather to use those evils for the glorification of his own ego-spirit. He advocated nihilism, preaching that the world was meaningless, the realm of Caesar, that one should seek to suffer, should turn the other cheek, to reject the world for the sake of an after-life. He rejected the gift of life for the sake of eternal glory in death. And this is where he now suffers for his sin against life. This is his eternal glory.” My host looked at Isa with contempt as he picked him up and poked him in the wound in his ribs, turned his palm upwards to observe the stigmata, then with disgust threw him away and back into the mass of the undead.

“It’s strange,” I said, “that Isa be in hell and not Iudas...”

“Why do you think that?” he retorted petulantly. “Iudas was an even greater ego-monger than Isa, for Iudas went even further than Jesus. In fact he saw himself as superior even to Isa. For it was none other than Iudas who took upon himself the burden of committing the greatest sin that could possibly be committed by one man: Iudas betrayed and killed the son of god, and by doing so he - not Isa - took upon himself the true sins of mankind. By committing the most heinous act imaginable, he saved the rest of mankind from committing it. He is the one who sacrificed himself for mankind through his even more selfish – and seemingly execrable – act. He thought himself the most beloved of god, and he too wallows here among the other vainglorious ego-mongers.”

“But Iudas was a despicable name on earth, synonymous with treachery!” I answered with incredulity.

“Of course he was. That’s his genius. If he hadn’t committed such a despicable deed he would not have achieved his goal. For whereas Isa died for the sins of mankind, Iudas committed the greatest sin imaginable by mankind – i.e. betraying and killing the son of god – before taking his pay-off from the Romans and then taking his own life. Could there be any crime more egregious than this? That’s why he committed it, to save mankind from doing so, to set not only an example of evil that mankind would shun, but to take upon himself full and utter responsibility for that worst of evils – and thus all evil - even to the point of remaining misunderstood for the rest of history. He shunned even the glory that Isa couldn’t, for all Isa did was die for the sins of mankind and remain a hero. Iudas became the sins of mankind. Therein lies the genius of Iudas, in his being misunderstood. And therein also lies the reason why he was the greatest ego-monger of all.”

To this I was somewhat dumb-founded and could offer no reply. I could not help but look at the figure of Isa crawling pathetically back into the rancid pile of undead, like a worm trying to escape from exposure.

“It seems to me that in hell, vanity is godliness,” I said.

“The vainest are indeed the godliest, if that’s what you mean. They seek not the eyes of just any human for recognition; for the vainest, only the eyes of the most sublime and most powerful being will do: God. They would deny and destroy the earth - and even themselves - just for the sake of being recognized by their god. They would deny the earth and the life they possess as evil for the sake of satisfying their vanity by believing that they are immortal and that they will live in an afterlife where there is no death, but pure, eternal happiness. They destroy truth for the sake of lies, they destroy that which they possess for the sake of a convenient lie. Thus do the vain create a soul to believe in, so as to satisfy their desire to be immortal, to believe that their self-love will never die nor ever be extirpated.”

My host ignored my pondering face and carried on with his exegesis.

“You will find other such examples of suffering here. Narcissus and Adonis still wallow here, like Isa. Like Isa, they wait eternally for their resurrection, but no such resurrection can occur in hell. Paris still squirms about on this island, more concerned for his self and his possession - the most precious of which was Helen - than for the well-being and interests of his country, Ilium. Alongside him you will find Menelaus and Agamemnon who also sacrificed their nations for the sake of a woman. Helen too, willing accomplice of Paris, lies beneath your feet, churning in agony for the pain and war she brought upon the races of Achaeans and Trojans. Brave Hector suffered for the sins of these ego-mongers. Even I found myself here, I, once great Achilles, I who was once fated by my charms and golden locks to wrench the gold from the gods of youth and reap the smiles from the mouths of babes, I, now writhe in the bowels of molten earth and live only in the memory of a kiss. I too valued the adoration of Patroclus and Polyxena above my service to my people. I too saw myself as greater than all. I too succumbed to my weakness. I too succumbed to myself. Therein lies my guilt, and therein lie the seeds of my doom.”

And with those final words I noticed his countenance change. His long, glorious mane now rapidly became hoary and bristly, losing its life and youth. His great stature began shrinking, along with his muscles and limbs. The healthy red glow of his cheeks and the brilliant radiance of his skin were fading rapidly, inexorably, overcome with the deathly gray umbra of death that was now reclaiming with vengeful hunger this once extraordinary beacon of virility, this once proud symbol of ideal man. As soon as Achilles realized what was happening to him, a desperate expression overcame his face, and with one last delve into the fast depleting reservoir of strength that he had, he made a lunge at me - or, more correctly, at the wound I had on my heel. He tried desperately to suck more blood from me, to prolong this brief alleviation he had received from his eternal pain. But I jumped back, and by now his strength was failing him. He crawled hopelessly toward me, pulling himself by his fingernails, never taking his demented eyes off my bloody heel. But it was all futile. He soon shriveled back into the pathetic figure I had found on the side of the path of bones. He now shunned this path as if it burned him, trying to flee it, trying to crawl back into the endless mass that he had arisen from. I watched him sink back into his doom, like a worm, and disappear forever into this floating island of sin.

I walked on across the island until I reached the other shore. The path led from one end of the island right across to the other. When I reached the other side I looked down at my wound and to my surprise I found it had healed completely. When I looked up I found my rowboat waiting for me. I made one last gut-wrenching trek over the beach of bodies. When I finally pushed off the grizzly isle I saw the faces disappear from the beach and into the deepening water beneath my rowboat until the sea was once again dark and impenetrable to the gaze. I looked behind me and saw the isle of ego-mongers floating away. I was relieved to have escaped. I was relieved also that my wound had finally healed.

II) The Isle of Nihilists

Become what you are, and you will rediscover the world

My boat and I were now floating toward the second island. Even though I hadn’t been able to see it from the previous isle, I felt I should have, considering how soon I arrived at this one. It seemed to rise up out of the sea upon my approach, although I hadn’t actually seen it arise as such. I noticed that this island was as big as the first, although its topography was different. This island was composed of undulating dunes and barren, windswept hills. It was a wasteland. Upon gliding on to its shore - which, I was happy to find, was of sand rather than writhing bodies - I noticed there was a great expanse that stretched out before me. The island seemed bigger than I thought it was from sea. The sandy, yellow hills contrasted with the darkened sky above. I could also see along this wide expanse the forms of exclusively individual humans dispersed sporadically throughout the island. They looked lost and forlorn, as if wandering aimlessly. I decided to make my way to one of them, to see if I could speak to one.

I crossed several hillocks and large dunes until I approached one such figure. He seemed some sort of ascetic lost in contemplation. He was wearing robes of yellow and he was old. He had a shorn head and his eyes were vacant, seemingly focused far away, beyond even the reach of sight.

“Do you see me?” I asked. The ascetic’s head turned to me and seemed to acknowledge my presence. He bowed his head slowly and carefully, as if trying not to strain a muscle or break a bone, and then continued to gaze through me and far beyond me. The silence drew out for a while. Finally the ascetic spoke, although he did so without fixing his sight on me.

“Illusion is all I see, my son, a world of illusions, of empty, fleeting illusions. I have sought to find truth, but I only see a world of lies, of vapid representations, animate hoaxes. The mere specter of truth is all I see, and you too, my son, you too are a mere specter, like a shadow in a cave.”

“As you are too?” I probed.

“As I am too. I am nothing, a mere representation of myself. And I have sought the truth all my life, but I have ended up here to live as a shadow in this phantasmagoria of lost spirits, still a slave of the falsehood and illusion that I sought to escape in life, still trapped in my own image, this image of false representation.”

“With whom do you share this barren isle, old man?”

“We do not share - we simply bear each other’s presence. For nothing is more disconcerting for an anchorite than the company of others. But here we are, all wallowing in the same fate. We all spent our lives on earth hoping one day to escape it, hoping one day to find an after-life, or a higher level of being and illumination, an ideal world which would be free of all the sins, errors, imperfections, trials, tribulations, evil and strife that was life on earth in our eyes. And now we all continue to live out the life of rejection, but now we live it out without hope that there is something better, and we live this for eternity with the knowledge that there is no salvation for us, not even in the form of death. We have wasted the gift of life and now we are paying with our death where our conscience burns and revolts, all to no avail. We who were the affirmers of truth have discovered to our horror that we in fact were its very negators. We were the detractors of nihilists, but we were the greatest nihilists of all. We rejected and depreciated what we had for the sake of a hope, a belief in an imaginary world that we wished we had. That is how we have come here. That is why we will never leave. We are now merely the prisoners of our consciences wallowing in the waste of our faded lives.”

As he finished talking he suddenly turned his head nervously to spot another hermit approaching his vicinity. His look was timorous and his eyes followed his cohabitant until he was sufficiently distant. He seemed genuinely disturbed by the sight of another being, and yet he was exceptionally kind and accommodating with me. Perhaps he knew this would not be my eternal resting place, that I was fated to continue my infernal journey beyond this isle of perdition and on to countless others. He seemed almost to have a compassionate countenance when he spoke to me.

“Do you then still practice your beliefs here? Do you meditate?” I asked him, after a pause.

“Of course not, we have long since forgotten them, and we have long since lost faith in them also. We simply wander for want of anything better to do, and we wallow in our sorrow, in our waste, in our utter and hopeless perdition. That is our fate, thus we cannot but live our fate. But now let me ask you a question: why do you think you are here?”

I paused for a moment as I pondered this question that seemed to be posed to me by every sentient being I’d encountered thus far. And the more I saw, the more I traveled, the more I overcame, the more I started piecing together the conditions and reasons of my hellish descent.

“I’m beginning to think… that I’m going through some sort of trial from which I will either prevail, or within which I will perish,” I answered finally, hesitantly. “I don’t know anything else but that, and even that I’m not sure I know. I seem to be both creator and created, subject and observer, as if every trial emanated from me while at the same time tormenting me. My trials and experience seem to draw from vague memories, to manifest themselves in dreams, form in my consciousness, and then represent themselves to the point where they seem to be reality itself, where a body bleeds, where there is still death, where there is still pain and emotion, bones and bodily forms, flesh and skin, wind and earth, water and fire, language and logic, life and living. And yet these seemingly normal manifestations communicate something to me that they never did in life, something only approximated by my dreams, by my subconscious, by all that I chose to turn my face from, to escape and run from. Here is where the confrontation finally occurs, to my horror, to my torment, but also perhaps to my ultimate relief. I feel this is my final chance, this is my trial, and this will either prove something great, a change, a metamorphosis, perhaps even an apotheosis, I don’t know, but something great will happen. And if I fail - and I feel this is possible on every step of the journey - if I fail I will suffer eternally what were once those brief moments of hesitation and fear, those milliseconds of helplessness, of cowardice at various points in my past life that have proved now to have the length of eternity, as if I have inherited the weight of the world from the shoulders of Atlas. Those brief, seemingly inconsequential moments have now become who I am, and the battle I did not wage when I should have is being waged now, both by me and against me. My fears, my doubts, my guilt, my shame, my weaknesses, all of these now lie before me manifested in the form of beasts, phantoms, ghosts, labyrinths, memories, temples, forests, islands, mountains, rivers and oceans, like the geography of my mind, like my personal ontography, like the physiognomy of my soul. If I fail, I know that all that I am will be a moment of disgust stretched out over my own eternity.”

“Your journey is indeed a long and arduous one, young man,” the anchorite replied almost immediately, as if he hadn’t heard me. “For I used to think that the only thing more terrible than the tyranny of consequence that stalks our every deed, was the ubiquity of the inconsequential, which encompasses not only the deed and the doer, but even consequence itself. But now I see that every one of our actions in life – even the most seemingly insignificant – carry with them the burden and responsibility of our entire existence.”

When he said this, when he referred to me as “young man”, I instinctively looked down upon my protean figure and realized that not only did I look like a young man again but I had maintained this form ever since leaving the labyrinth. My newfound spirit since emerging from the labyrinth had further manifested itself aesthetically and physically in my psycho-corporal form (for any fancy of physical and true corporality would obviously be misguided). The anchorite went on:

“Though I am but a fool and have banished my self to eternal doom from which I find no escape, I will yet dare to give you one word of advice that will serve you well in your journey. And that advice is this: never look back at a place you have just left behind. That is the surest way to be lost in your own ontography. I have committed the seemingly opposite sin to myself. I have looked ahead to places I have not even been, nor that I knew existed. But my gaze lingered on these places until I lost sight of what was around me, what I was already a part of, of family and friends, of country and land, of pleasures and love. My gaze became lost in the great beyond that I dreamt was there, and I have never discovered it. I will never recover what I had, having been too foolish to realize its worth. That was a long time ago, but there does not go by a moment when the past does not haunt my thoughts like a wound. I too - like you, like them, like every lost soul condemned to these depths - I too wallow an eternity in a moment of regret, that weightiest of sins against life. And so my young man, losing your sight in the past will be sure to ruin you, to damn you like it has damned me. For all that exists is only that which exists and all that we live we live in this timeless moment in which both past and future endlessly converge as possibility and potential, yet are never fulfilled as reality. We are but a primordial and forever-reforming interstice born of the illusion of this convergence…”

As he ended his words, I noticed the ascetic’s face grow bitter, assuming a terse twist at the mouth and a look of melancholy in the eyes. Before I could say anything, the ascetic walked away, slowly, pensively, forlornly. I looked around me and half expected hands to begin groping me from the soft sands beneath me, or creatures to emerge from nowhere trying to drag me down with them to rot eternally on this isle of nihilists. But no such thing happened. As I walked back to my boat, every ascetic I met on the way shunned me and avoided me like I was a curse. There was a sense of embarrassment, a sense of shame in their collective demeanor and I felt they couldn’t have been rid of me soon enough. I turned and made my way back to the boat, over these sorrowful rolling dunes, past these pitiful wretches. When I got back to my boat, climbed on board and instinctively turned around to take one last glance at the isle, I was startled all of a sudden to find a crowd of these ascetics gathered together on the shores to watch me leave. They did not motion to me or wave to me but just stood and watched, intermittently glancing down at the waters with fright, careful that not a drop of this great wide ocean moisten their tunics and robes. Among them I sought with my eyes the ascetic in the yellow tunic I had been talking to only a while before. And as my vessel was gently floating from the silent shore of nihilists, I did spot the man. His tunic was the same, but his face had changed. He was a young man again, with high cheekbones and eager, almost wild, epicanthic eyes and thick, straight black hair and a lively skin and red complexion. He was the very image of youth. And I never remember feeling as pitiful as I did upon setting eyes on this virile young man who would have the whole world ahead of him, standing there on the shore of nihilists, with nowhere to go. The waste sickened me and tears began to well in my eyes at the sight of him, at the sight of one so young wasting away here. I was taken aback by my excess of feelings at that moment upon seeing his young complexion. I looked again down at my own self and realized it was for my own fate as much as his that I was weeping. His figure slowly faded into the distance and became just another face in a crowd on an island lost in a bleak ocean.

It was only then that I understood the advice he had given me, and I resolved never to look back upon another fading shore. For with every backward glance, we leave a part of ourselves behind. I turned once more to the prow and fixed my gaze ahead of me. I looked up and the bluish-purple sky stretched out like a heavenly canopy. The water was restless with life. The wind swept through my hair and the salty fresh brine once again filled up my nostrils. My journey stretched out before me and at that moment I knew that I would not want to be anywhere else. The past gave me fortitude, the future gave me purpose, and the present was all that mattered to me.

And I heard the wind whispering its thoughts into my ear, in my own voice, before dispersing with the gloaming sky, like the breath of the ocean exhaled from its wild and wise depths and into my mind.

Strange how they move
The legions of time
Stealthily and sly
Yet grand
In monumental projections
Without any guise of contrition,

Strange once thought I
Gazing out over
Deep blue and purple horizons
Strange how all the hellos and goodbyes
Divide the spoils between them
In long silent sighs
As if to trap all in between
A million and two eyes,

And amidst all the guffaws and cries
Long hated and despised
How awkward were just us two
Two syllables in a word
Both trapped in a stuttering whisper
Protruding from the echoes
Of blue and purple skies

I felt I was close to her. I had felt it all along. Like an epiphany, her presence arose within and around me, yet without face or name. I knew her. Now the voices from the depths, of Poseidon and Proteus and their host of sirens and nymphs, they all seemed to presage the moment when I would find her again. The voices had spoken of her, and now I knew I was being drawn inexorably to her once again. I knew it was time.

III) The Isle of Ariadne

Why do you come back? Why?
I would have given you the world
Just for the one promise
That you would never do me wrong,
So now why do you come back, lover,
When the words we once shared are lost,
And all our dreams are gone?

I jumped from where I was lying, startled like an animal, the voice still in my ear, the face still before me, even after I had opened my eyes. Like two syllables in a word, both trapped in a stuttering whisper… I looked around me and the ocean stretched out as it had before. The sky unfolded in melancholy shades of blue and purple. I was close, I knew I was close. It was time. I was not afraid. I was not at all afraid, not like I used to be. But I knew it was time. I closed my eyes again and knew I would awake before her once more. I had no dreams. There was no repression or hope that dreams could feed off. In hell I dreamt with my eyes wide open, and my dreams swirled around me. Upon awakening I found myself on a new shore, moored again on a new beach that seemed to appear out of nowhere.

I braced myself for my inevitable encounter. I alit from the boat carefully, tensely, nervously, like someone about to face an army, an army of emotions and regrets, of memories and loss. Upon climbing the sandbank I saw a tiny island with a solitary figure only a few steps away from me. Her hair was brown and waving in the breeze, her face was turned away from me so that I could only see the pale white skin of her left cheek and her long brown eyelashes, which did not so much as concede a single blink despite the wind. Her loose white silken dress fluttered gracefully and sorrowfully, like the banner of her heart. There she was, looking out with hopeless longing into the distance where the sky met the sea. I stood there looking at her, after all these years. My heart sank, my hands trembled, my eyes welled. I approached her and was standing behind her, but she didn’t turn. She kept looking out to sea like a forsaken bride. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I touched her hair, I brushed my fingers gently across the nape of her neck, then down her back, and I smelled her hair as it waved past my face - her soft, brown, straight hair. I couldn’t say anything. I just let the tears stream down my cheeks, forging silent, warm, salty streams across the parched landscape of my face. She said nothing. She just looked away, far, far away.

At that moment I remembered a song she used to sing in summer, a long time ago, when we used to lie naked in bed, in our post-coital ease, just staring out the sunbathed window and through the streaming summer rays, past the lush greenery and lazy summer air, staring out and away, like she was now, here in front of me on this barren isle of hell, staring out into the unknown and the unknowable, where we felt part of an inscrutable mystery, where we felt the promise of a future that was yet to be written and the certainty of a fate that was yet to be fulfilled. And we just lied there in each other’s arms. I could never forget that sense of security, of belonging to something greater than me, greater than both of us, yet belonging to us. It was a little room, in a little flat, in an insignificant town where the world was at our feet. It was so long ago, but I still remember us lying there as if it were yesterday, and I still remember how she was brushing her fingers through my hair, whispering gently into my ear, telling me everything would be good, that everything would be alright. The sound of the wind rustling through her clothes and hair spoke to me again in long forgotten verses…

In this room there once stood
A bed in the corner and a couch on the side
And from amid the flooding midsummer rays
Two shadows were known to float
Swimming, side by side

Despite the confusion that churned within me, despite the fact that I just couldn’t find the words to convey the emotions that were clashing in me, I wanted to touch her again, one last time. But as my hand made its agonizingly slow way toward touching her shoulder, it just went through and out without feeling anything but thin air. My beloved was phantom, devoid of flesh and blood and bones. There she was, merely a spirit forsaken on this isle, abandoned and forsaken by my own hands. Feelings of remorse and helplessness descended over my eyes and incapacitated me with fear and tension, something I had not felt since my escape from the labyrinth. I tried to touch her hand, and again my own hand simply vanished into hers. The once orchard-fresh smell of her dark brown hair and the sweet scent of her pale white skin were lost to me forever. And she never moved. She probably wasn’t even aware of my presence. We were in separate universes at that moment. She just looked out to sea with melancholy longing, as if waiting for her lover to return, knowing he never would. And even though I was now back, even though my hand was in her hand, we were the mere ghosts of our memories, nothing more.

I withdrew my hand from hers and I looked at her one last time. Nothing could alleviate within me the feeling of guilt for having caused misery to another soul. Nothing could lighten the heavy burden of my memories. I did not even feel that I had met a challenge, or a test, or a wrong that must be righted. I merely felt the helplessness of having been an observer of my own guilt, of my own regret. And standing there by the lonely phantom of a woman I was once going to take as my wife, I realized that we have already made our decisions and we have to live with the consequences no matter how brutal, no matter how painful. Whether for the better or for the worse, we all carry the burden of our choices and the shame of our guilt, and sometimes we cannot right what is wrong, make good what is painful. Sometimes we just have to bear the pain like a sore wound and carry on, a little weaker, a little more humble, with incommunicable regret, with helplessness, but carry on nevertheless because there’s nothing else to do and nothing left to say.

I turned and made my way back to the rowboat. As I got in and pushed off from the shore, I remembered the song she used to sing in that room, all those years ago. And as she sang, it felt as if nothing had ever changed since the last time I had heard it, as if we had merely parted on that day, but had forever been trapped in that moment ever since. Her wind-blown hair and flowing robes accompanied her faint voice as I set off with the sweet melody in my ears, my mind lost in the thoughts of a distant summer’s day.

A little ray of sun
Lay on my window sill
Conjuring dust to dance like pixies
On a Walpurgisnacht hill

A little ray of sun
Has flowed into my room
And picked out my fair young lover
In all his summer bloom

[A little ray of sun
Has flowed into my room
A little ray of sun
On my lover’s golden loom]

And here we lie
Now bathed in light
Like pixie lovers, pale and white
Now arm in arm, and gaining sight
As two shadows escaping
From the spell of night

[A little ray of sun
Like pixies on a hill
A little ray of sun
Found these two hearts still beating
After the long winter chill]

IV) The Isle of Irenogogues

Love thy neighbor,
Turn the other cheek,
And if the world gets nasty,
Just beat a quick retreat

The next isle in this chain was a wondrous Eden, with forests and rivers and lush vegetation that was bursting with life, with the caws of parrots and the chirping of birds. I even saw deer drinking by the stream that flowed down to the sea, near the mouth of which my rowboat made landfall. The isle was the most beautiful I’d ever seen. And one thing that struck me was that none of the animals seemed to fear me. I went right up and past the deer and they continued sating their thirst from the stream, without so much as a wary sideway glance. Birds didn’t take off while they were feeding on seeds and worms from the moist, rich, dark soil beneath the forest canopy. They did not so much as flap a wing. It was as if they could gauge my intentions and see that there was nothing malicious in them. The entire island was like a veritable garden of Eden, like the millennial revelation of St. John, where the leopard and the lamb feed together, coexisting in harmony. I wondered if there were any souls condemned to eternity on this isle, and wondered just what sort of condemnation it would be, for to spend an eternity in such a lush paradise as this must be a boon rather than doom. Yet there seemed no sign of even a single soul.

I made my way through the forest, coming across a plethora of life forms and a breathtaking glow where light streamed through the verdant canopy and on to the forest bed, lighting up an isle buzzing and teeming with all manner of life – or rather, representations of life. Wild pigs and wild turkeys roamed easily, so at ease that they seemed overweight and well-fattened, as if they were domesticated. Monkeys chattered overhead, not only unafraid of this strange new visitor on their isle, but not even curious, as monkeys are wont to be. Then my heart nearly stopped as from some particularly dense shrubbery I saw emerge the magnificent form of a great black panther with magnificently shining fur and lithe, muscular limbs. Its graceful prowl was bringing it closer toward me. Its yellow and black eyes gleamed piercingly and its large, powerful paws hardly made a sound as the panther glided along and right past me, hardly noticing I was there. This was indeed an amazing experience, like I was an invisible child walking through a zoo. The oneiric quality of the island, with its colors and beasts and beauty, seemed to feed off my own over-stimulated imagination, and vice versa, as if each fed upon the other.

I kept walking on, my head tilted up in awe of the noisy, bustling monkeys and colorful parrots overhead, when I tripped over something large and solid, made of flesh, yet bony, and I thought it would have been a deer that didn’t so much as care if I were approaching or not. I picked myself up and looked behind me to find to my amazement an old man huddled on the ground, with his legs between his arms and a vacuous, vulnerable look in his eyes. His body was like that of someone suffering from hunger, as if he were a famine victim. He was also completely naked and his rib bones jutted out so far it seemed he had no flesh and no fat left at all, just a heap of skin and bones. It was a truly pitiful sight. Just as I made my way toward him, I heard a rustling behind me. When I turned to see what the noise could have been, I was struck by the most pathetic sight I had ever seen. There before me lay dozens of these hungry, famished, moribund souls, just like the man I had tripped over, and there they all sat, huddled, cold, weary, in pain and agony within a large pit in the forest bed. I couldn’t believe my eyes. To imagine such misery in such an isle of plenty, to see such pitiful, motley denizens of paradise such as these seemed unbelievable. I stood near the center of this large depression in the forest looking around me with baffled eyes at the state of these poor dilapidated souls. They needed to be fed, and that’s what I proposed upon turning to the old man I had tripped over, not just because he seemed older than the others - thereby committing a common error of confusing sense with senescence - but also because of an irrational feeling of empathy with the first soul I had encountered (and in such a palpable way) in this new environment.

“You need food old man, you all need food, why do you starve out here so helplessly in the midst of such fecundity, such plenty? We must gather food, hunt meat, come help me,” I beseeched.

I was almost pleading with him, not so much for the good of these sufferers as for the sake of letting out some sort of reaction that was solicited in me by the sight of the suffering of my fellow men. But the old man just sat there huddled, looking at me with a lack of comprehension. I repeated my intentions, upon which he did venture a reply.

“Speak not to me of blasphemy child!” he bellowed. “We do not kill, we do not indulge in the carnivorous act of devouring our fellow creatures. For we are all manifestations of the same flesh and we refrain from killing any, we refrain from killing for the sake of sating our hunger, we shun death as an evil of the world, an evil that will be set aright by the kingdom of peace.” And with those words he huddled back into position and started rocking backwards and forwards, trying to ignore my presence, like someone who had to endure the indignation of having to explain himself and his beliefs.

“You’re starving,” I said. “And if you don’t kill, how can you survive? You must slay the beast to cook the meat, you must kill the seed to eat the fruit, you must rip the roots out of the earth to satisfy your hunger. Without killing, there is no life, and you are not living anyway, you are in hell and your torment is eternal consciousness of pain, hunger and suffering.”

The man just brooded, the others around us had a disgusted look on their faces. They seemed also to be afraid. I noticed there was a reason they were huddled in this pit full of dead leaves and branches surrounded by lush and living shrubs and bushes. They seemed to be hiding from something. The old man spoke again.

“We are true to our beliefs. We believe in peaceful and harmonious coexistence of all creatures, for life is one whole, divided only in its forms but not in its essence. We all carry the same soul and thus we cannot commit such a sin against our fellow creatures - our fellow soul-mates. We must all learn to live in peace and harmony, as our ideals have ordained. For life in itself is evil, and our only salvation is to rise above it and seek for the state of being whereby all manifestations of the soul live in irenic harmony as one.”

As the old man spoke I saw from the corner of my eye that one of the children had climbed up on the delicate legs of an old woman. I then saw it take in its mouth one of the sagging, barren breasts of the woman. It started suckling and then gnawing desperately on her nipple, but it was obviously futile. The woman was barren, and the child was hungry. It was perhaps the most disturbing thing I had seen thus far. I saw another child ripping out tufts of grass and then trying to eat it as he stuffed it in his mouth and chewed and chewed before swallowing what he could with a bitter expression on his face. His mother reproached him for doing so and bade him stop at once, saying that a blade of grass had as much a right to live as he did. One child tried approaching one of the smaller cats that prowled the area, trying to pet it. His mother seemed to approve as she smiled and showed her rotten teeth. But no sooner had the child reached out for it, the cat hissed and bit in – and straight through – one of the child’s fingers. The child gave a horrendous scream as blood trickled from his hand, but the cat relished the fresh meat – or what there was of it – and made a hearty meal of the finger it had bit off, oblivious to the suffering child and the horrified onlookers, some of whom tried to lap up what they could of the child’s blood for any little bit of nourishment they could get.

As I was trying to stomach this hideous spectacle, there came a rustling noise from behind the shrubs on the edge of this depression in which these pathetic souls huddled like terrified animals. Each and every one of their anemic faces now assumed a look of dread and horror as they all turned to where the sound emanated from. Yet none of them moved, none dared move, none tried to fight against the fear. Then there emerged the same panther I had seen before, graceful, large, with shining black fur and a look of purpose in its eyes. It simply prowled over to the old man, whose mouth hung agape in absolute horror, through the huddled throngs of terrified, screaming irenogogues. There was no effort to fight, to try and stave off the beast, to even shake off their fear. The panther simply lay a paw on the old man’s chest, pegging his writhing, squirming body to the moist soil, and began slowly devouring the old man as he shook and shuddered in pain. The large sharp teeth ripped into his neck first, ripping off his head from his torso, letting it roll away into the nadir of this pit among the terrified screams of the onlookers. Then the panther sank its teeth into the abdomen, ripping out a gamy chunk of viscera and bowels as blood spurt everywhere, along the panther’s black coat, into my own face, soaking the soil beneath it. The limbs were still twitching as the panther went on to consume the entire rotted, weak corpse before it. When it had finished feeding, it simply turned away and walked back where it came from, to sate its thirst in the stream. It was obvious that the panther by now fed only on these pathetic souls, not so much as touching other creatures which would put up a fight or flee for safety. The philosophy of “peace” that these Irenogogues espoused also created their very own punishment, hungry and suffering as they were in the isle of plenty, creating an imbalance in the ecosystem of the isle which tipped them into the position of the fearful, huddled herd that had become the only quarry of the great predator. To not kill was here unnatural, and unless one was a predator, one was the prey. The irenogogues were the prey of their own good will. The peaceful harmony they believed in was contrary to the equilibrium of the nature around them in which one either killed, fought and survived, or starved, gave-in and died. Even though their own pusillanimity and squeamishness had assumed a philosophical coating, their decadent nature still glared through the shiny varnish.

I left this pathetic rabble to its fate. As I made my way back to the rowboat and got aboard, I saw the panther laying by the stream, content with its feeding, ready to loose its bowels after the meal. As it crouched to defecate, I saw a human head trying to push its way out of the panther’s rectum, like a baby trying to see light. Two little hands grasped the rim of the panther’s anus and soon the little creature - of human form - was out, and as soon as the grotesque little figure emerged it went running back to the quarry where his fellow souls lay, back to the quarry to eventually meet the same inevitable fate that awaited it over and over again.

Needless to say, it would be the same fate that had defecated it into existence.

V) The Isle of Chronophobia

The clocks do not tick,
Time does not waste,
Not even the seconds proceed,
Until subjected
To our desperate gaze

My rowboat floated on toward the next isle. It seemed the day was endless, as if it had been the same hour for what seemed a very long time. The air was still, the waters were calm, and I approached the next isle with the same emotional mix of anticipation, nervousness and curiosity as I had felt upon approaching the other isles I had left behind. My journey was taking upon itself a significance and form with every new discovery, with every new phenomenon that I encountered and overcame. Every isle, every creature, every monster, every occurrence, every phantom, every figure that came up before me infused me with new understanding and more vivid memories of my lost life and who I used to be.

The next isle in this chain of sin came upon me slowly, and my trusty rowboat slid smoothly on to the fine sandy beach, as it was by now wont to do of its own volition. The isle seemed inanimate; there was no movement, no forms, no sound, not a sign of activity, not even suffering. I jumped off the boat and proceeded to walk over a grassy, green landscape of rolling green hillocks. As I was walking I noticed nothing out of the ordinary, except that there were holes that seemed to have been burrowed into the ground by some large animal. The holes looked big enough for something the size of a human and they dotted the landscape around me. I called out to see if anything, or anyone, would come out, but there was no breaking the tranquil monotony of the isle. I approached one of the cavernous pits and looked in, though I couldn’t see anything as it was pitch-black. I called out and my voice echoed down to what seemed quite a substantial subterranean depth. Still there was no response. I was in two minds as to what should be my next move. After all, there was nothing above surface except hills of lush green grass rustled by an occasional sea breeze. But if there was indeed anything below, I thought whether perhaps it mightn’t be a good idea to avoid it. While my curiosity had been awakened, caution got the better of me, and I decided to head back to the boat, though not without an inkling of regret at having forfeited the opportunity of a new discovery, for as I knew by now, each new discovery meant the retrieval of a piece of my own self.

Having arrived at the boat I decided to ease it back into the water as I had done so many times before, with a light push. To my surprise, the little boat did not budge so much as an inch. More forceful pushes proved equally futile. The boat would not move. I knew then what I had to do. So I went back over the grassland and crouched before the first hole I saw. I looked in, even though I knew I would not be able to see a thing. I looked in anyway, not so much to see as to give myself a focal point for my pensiveness. The hole seemed to be a sheer, straight, vertical drop down and there didn’t seem to be much to hold on to so as to ease the descent. So a jump it would be. The uncertainty and doubt was excruciating. It was like plunging headlong into murky waters hoping it would be deep enough when really you had no clue and you might just as easily break your neck or smash your skull. And yet if I failed to execute the task that awaited me, I could spend the rest of eternity in this forsaken isle, forever confronted by a decision that’s beckoning to be taken but never is. I vaguely remembered how many moments there were like this in life, when action meant certain elation and relief, when refusal meant regret and shame, and the paralysis of analysis in that moment of indecision seemed to last an eternity and grow more and more painful with every second that past. This moment too was gravid with anxious procrastination. I could bear it no longer. I felt beads of cold sweat forming on my forehead, and even between my nose and upper lip, and knew it was now or never - forever. Telling myself that I was doomed anyway, I hopped off the edge and let myself drop into the gaping abyss.

The walls of the gravelly tunnel scraped past me, crumbling around me, with small rocks and dirt plunging alongside me as I fell barely a couple of seconds before hitting a bend and continuing to slide down at a steep angle until I saw a light below me and I fell out of the tunnel, through open air and into a lighted room where I crashed onto the cold, tiled floor. I immediately stood up with an instinct of self-protection. At first everything was a spinning blur, incoherent and confused, until I finally let my eyes focus on a point in front of me. The first thing I saw was a large, antique grandfather clock. Below me was a black and white square-tiled floor, above me was a high ceiling with ornate cornices that seemed to depict mythological scenes, like a frieze, similar to that which I’d seen in the temple of the labyrinth. My eyes fixed on a depiction of Cronos being slain by Zeus. Between his sharp teeth were still lodged the fleshy remains of Zeus’ devoured siblings. Around the room there were only walls, without a single aperture to break their blindingly white continuity. To my left there was a Louis Quinze armchair, nothing more. I looked above me to see if I could somehow make my way back out the way I came, but I couldn’t even see the end of the tunnel through which I had dropped in on this hauntingly cold and sterile room. Again I looked around desperately, but to no avail. As I began to calm down and the adrenaline-spurred blood flow within me started to ebb, I could make out a single distinct sound. It was the sound of the ticking of the massive grandfather clock that towered before me. And with every tick the room echoed a few times more with the same sound so that the clock seemed a tyrannous hierophant preaching down at me. Again I looked around me for a source of succor. Again the white walls of madness were all that returned my gaze. The ticking of the clock became louder and louder and I felt a cold chill run through my entire body. The swing of the pendulum of the great clock was hypnotizing and I looked away. I had to get out of here, I had to escape, but there was nowhere to go, no escape from the giant clock. The face of the clock seemed to become an incoherent jumble every time I set my eyes upon it, indicating no time, no hour, but ticking away nevertheless, relentlessly. I had a feeling of total desperation and helplessness. I felt like stopping the clock, of destroying its tyrannical presence in the room, but I couldn’t go near it. I didn’t know what to do.

I glanced at the armchair and decided to sit down. As soon as I did, something strange happened. The room started to sway and tremble and all of a sudden human forms appeared out of nowhere, diaphanous and phantasmal. It was a whole ghostly family scurrying about busily. In fact, it was my family. Everyone was late for something. Mother dashed in and out of the room through the faintly outlined doors that appeared on the white walls, bringing in plates of food, taking other plates away. My father hurriedly read the paper, almost ripping the pages as he went through it, looking at his watch anxiously every few seconds. I was there on my feet scoffing down my orange juice and a bowl of cereal, eager to get to school without being late. My sister was already on her feet waiting for father. She looked like she needed to go to the bathroom but didn’t have time for it. As this was playing itself out before me, I noticed the characters - myself and my family - growing older gradually as it happened, but always rushing for something or somewhere. Then I saw myself and the other members of my family one by one, at times when they were alone. I saw tears when my mother looked at a picture of her mother, who had since passed on. I saw the expression of melancholy when my father looked at the photo of his children who were now grown and living in foreign lands. I saw the look on my sister when she was alone in bed anxious to find a path for her future, while she felt she was letting time waste with a lack of purpose and direction. And then I saw myself, just sitting there, in the same armchair, staring right back at me, alone and silent.

The clock’s swinging pendulum caught my eyes again. The ticking was much louder than before, almost like a gong. The armchair now seemed to move forward, at first gradually, then rapidly, straight toward my phantasmal alter-ego. I sped headlong into my phantom, and my eyes kept on my phantom’s eyes right until they actually went through them, and past them, and I suddenly felt a momentum-stopping impact. Then all was dark around me. I could see nothing but could make out murmurs in the dark. They seemed to be coming from the room. I felt I was moving along and through the walls of this room, as if I were now a part of those same white walls. I could start to distinguish the sounds of voices in the room. It was like I could hear the accumulation of years of life between those four walls, as if I were the very ears and memories of the wall. I heard the voice of my grandfather as he read to me. I heard the voice of my mother calling me to dinner. I heard people crying for the time that was lost never to be recovered. I heard people celebrate, and I even heard silence, the kind that exists in spite of any presence. I heard countless birthdays and anniversaries being celebrated over and over again. I heard people making love, and others arguing, and others fighting. I heard loneliness and fear, I heard laughter and joy. I heard the years pass in those walls. I heard a baby’s first steps. I heard two lovers kiss for the first time. I heard a man breath his last breath, and I heard another leave home for the first time, amid tears and hope. The walls had accumulated the history of its days, and now they had also absorbed me. And despite the vagaries of time, of the years and the ages, these walls stood firm and solid, but not cold. Unlike the rest of the room, the walls were warm and alive. They felt and responded to every breath, to every word, to every movement that they harbored and sheltered between them. I moved through the walls as all these voices intermingled in a cacophony of sound, each one of them familiar, each one of them still echoing over the years, until the echo grew so faint that only the walls could hear them anymore.

All of a sudden I felt a tugging, as if some force was trying to pull me out and back into the room. I felt a final, powerful wrenching pull and when I opened my eyes I was still in the armchair. I saw nothing before me, no change, no voices, no phantoms. The great clock was still distorted and incongruent. Its ceaseless ticking echoed on throughout the room. But when I looked above me I saw to my relief the opening of the tunnel. I looked around the room one last time, feeling like I was leaving something behind. And I was leaving something behind. I felt I was leaving that sense of nostalgia for the past behind me. It was slightly painful, but it was a relief nevertheless. Just as I was ready to leave I saw to my right, on the exact opposite side of the room from the clock, a door that appeared in the white wall. And I was almost tempted to try going through it but I heard the voices of all those left behind in the past, there behind the door, of all those voices lost in time, absorbed into the walls, mere echoes, clamoring for someone to finally open the door, not so they could escape, because there was no escape, but so another soul could be drawn in to share the misery of those trapped in the past. All my life I had hung on to the past like a security against change. I had sought the little corners and shadows of familiarity as havens in times of opportunity and I had forsaken change out of cowardice and inertia. Nostalgia had eaten away at my spirit and left me a hollow shell of a man. With ingenious distortion, it had created ideals out of experiences past so as to help buffer the stress of facing experiences to come. And here the door beckoned me in once again, like a malevolent siren calling me to inaction – and thereby, doom. But there was no going back, and I only realized now that there never had been.

I turned my eyes away from that door. I gave myself a little jump and I found to my amazement that I was back in the tunnel. I started climbing back up the narrow tunnel, amazed at how easy it was despite the fact that it looked so daunting. In no time at all I had come back up for air, back on the grassy surface of the pock-marked isle.

The air had never seemed so fresh, and the ocean had never seemed so inviting.

VI) The Isle of the Self-Debasers

Those that forfeit the body,
Live as if they were blind
For having forsaken the body
They have also relinquished the mind

I set off once again on the wide infernal sea, heading toward the next isle of this strange archipelago. As I approached the isle - which seemed to be one composed of rotting vegetation and dead and dying animals - I noticed the air grew heavy and there seemed a constant stench seeping through it. Not a thing stirred. There was no wind, just the macabre odor of death hanging over the whole island. As my rowboat slushed onto the shore, covered as it was with dead flora, a feeling not of dread but one of disgust was born in me.

I trudged up the shore and the ground squished under my feet as I did. When I gained enough high ground to be able to see out over a good portion of the isle, I could descry the utterly revolting scene that unfolded before my eyes. The isle was one enormous cesspool of filth. There were human forms on the isle too, as far as the eye could see. They picked through the rotten flora, eating whatever they found: carcasses, slime, compost. Their flesh was the flesh of the dead, almost the color of green, their eyes seemed dead too, hollow, lusterless, devoid of any spark of life. Their teeth were blackened and withered, their nails were as if dead wood. Yet despite the utterly grisly scene, they were not fearsome to the eye, there was no malice or evil intent in their demeanor. Rather they were just disgusting, beyond pitiful. They were the very picture of waste.

One of these hideous wretches noticed my presence and seemed momentarily taken aback before he regained his composure. He approached me slowly, with a limp, his eyes wavering, setting their gluttonous sight all over my body. I felt a certain aggression well up inside me, born of contempt. I instinctively tensed up and remained on guard. This wretch had a few strains of grey, dead hair left on his ghoulish head, his eyes had popped quite a ways out of their sockets, like that of a chameleon, googly, yellow and dull. The limbs were withered, the muscles were decayed, the bones were fragile, the whole figure was contorted and disfigured like some horrid freak show. He came up to me, mumbling to himself in an unintelligibly low, stuttering voice. I could now barely hide the look of disdain and disgust on my face. He offered me rotten compost with his outstretched hand.

“Eat, eaaaat,” he hissed. I angrily slapped the “food” out of his hand like it was an insult. The creature just picked it up and pushed it down his throat. Immediately, the creature’s stomach seemed to bloat and it slumped over onto the oozing ground to take a postprandial nap in the slimy mud. Another came by to take a morsel of garbage that had remained in the creature’s hand as it went to sleep. The creature awoke briefly to pull his arm into his body and went on sleeping.

I decided to continue exploring the isle. A little further ahead I saw obese, bloated figures with their faces plunged into a big pool of lard and grease, drinking, slurping, scooping the lard into their mouths, fighting over every gooey chunk of fat as it oozed from their tongues, over their chins, dripping from their hair. They writhed and wriggled in the gunk that they fed on. Further on I saw more of these adipose gluttons with fire before them, and large vats, and they were taking the rotting vegetation and the dead, rotten meat from carcasses that littered the isle and they were frying these in the vats with what they could scoop up from the large pool of lard I had just passed. They had only the taste for this fried garbage and they fed on it ceaselessly, without any sense of restraint. I saw one of these gluttons clutch the fat around his left breast with eyes wide open and frozen, suffering what seemed a heart attack. Immediately, as the other adipose freaks around him knew he was dead, they ripped his limbs and threw his mangled fatty body into the vats and on to a large hot plate where his meat sizzled in its own fat and was immediately devoured by the ravenous mob around it. When all that was left were some bones from which dangled the gnawed remnants of meat, the horde segued back to the pool of filth as if to sate their insatiable gluttony.

The air was stuffy now and I was feeling noxious. I turned to head back toward the boat but was instantly waylaid by the sickly, green wretch who had offered me his food. When his hand touched me it felt cold and slimy. His eyes widened and he licked his lips. He looked at me with a hungry demeanor. He squeezed my arm and ran his hand down my abdomen. I wrenched his hand away and shoved him out of my way. I noticed other wretches of his ilk were also moving slowly toward me, with the same hungry expression on their faces. I turned to look behind me and saw the horde of adipose monsters closing in on me from behind. I was to be the object of their cannibalistic desires. I now felt other hands on my skin, cold, wet hands, then fat, sticky hands. I started feeling them pinch my skin and squeeze my flesh. I heard their collective breath whirr and wheeze with delight and anticipation of fresh meat. I tried to free myself but so many hands were now weighing me down that movement was almost impossible, bringing forth repulsively memories of the Isle of Ego-Mongers. The only feeling more overwhelming than the disgust in my stomach was now the panic that was taking over my body. I made one last desperate attempt to struggle free and, upon failing that, I grabbed a large rock from the ground before me and swung at the freak closest to me with a loud cry that was intended to strike fear in my assailants, even though it seemed rather to betray fear to them. I felt its face crush under the blow of the heavy rock, but the hands did not recede. I felt their fat, lard-inflated bodies pressing me from all sides until it became a crushing pressure on my ribs and lungs. Their collective stench was like that of an abattoir. Then I made one final effort to free myself and with one strong push against the skinnier of my assailants I managed to give my rock-wielding right arm enough space to maneuver a strike at another of these monsters. I did not look where I was swinging, but felt that the rock hit something with a dull thud. I looked over to where I had struck and I saw a fat, bloody, blubber-bleeding mess heaped on the ground, its limbs twitching, its eyes frozen and staring skyward, its brains and blood oozing from its busted skull. I was now delirious with fear, panic and disgust, and I had this rock in my fist. It was a satisfying combination. I swung out again, and then one after the other I heard the cracking of bones and dull absorption of fat. One after the other the mass of self-defilers lay in agony and ruin at my feet, a whole bubbling heap of filth. As the adrenaline welled up and I lost all power of reason, I continued to lash out with a sheer animal ferocity. I found at one point that I’d thrown the rock out of my hand and that I was ripping into these animals with my hands and nails, just as they no doubt had wanted to rip into me. With the blood and filth on my face and the blood-crazed glare of my eyes, I must have looked like one of these self-defilers, no better perhaps than they.

The next thing I knew I was back at my boat. I must have blanked out for some time. When I looked back behind me I saw a trail of bloodshed and mayhem, and the annihilated corpses of all those slain by me. It was a veritable trail of twittering carcasses. The fat, blood, entrails, filth and meat flowed into a river heading toward me, into the sea. Those that were not slain had already started feeding and drinking from the leftovers of my holocaust. I jumped into my boat and just managed to set off before the river of bile reached my feet. As the river fed into the sea, I heard a loud hiss and what seemed to be groans rising from the water. A reddish pink slick of fat floated away on the surface in a greasy rainbow of colors that responded dutifully to the rays of sunlight making their appearance once again from the horizon after what had seemed an eternity.

VII) The Isle of the Biotimorous

Having cramped themselves
Into these dark spaces,
And typed words tinged
Without a glimpse of their faces,
These young and old, one and alike,
Await their fortune,
In patient struggle of forty years,
When they too will glow in the glitter
Of a Thank You engraved on a gold watch
That would otherwise burn the faces
Of the uninitiated

The next island looked like a massive rectangular block, rising up vertically from the ocean, albeit at a slight angle. As I got nearer I saw that it was not an island at all, but a building that surged straight out of the sea in the form of a towering edifice, like a grandiloquent testimony to human artifice. Its massive, solid structure bespoke of equally massive ambitions, but also of decay. As my boat approached through the lengthened shadow of this edifice, I couldn’t help but feel overawed by its presence, at once profane yet sublime, utilitarian yet mythically charged. The dirty grey walls were decaying and cracked, as if on the verge of crumbling at any moment. There was no land foundation for the tower; it just rose out of the water like a forgotten monolith.

My boat floated under the building’s enormous shadow and came to rest near one of the gaping windows of the tower. It was dark inside and I entered cautiously, watching my steps as I did. The room I found myself in was a heap of ruin. Papers were strewn all over the floor, the air was thick with dust and decay, old machines, typewriters, telephones, desks, all lay abandoned and forgotten as if it had been centuries since they were last used. I picked up one of the papers that were lying before me, but all that was on the paper was one sentence reproduced over and over again. “Ye who enter, abandon all hope,” it read, over and over. Every page I picked up had the same phrase typed over and over, meticulously, clinically, bureaucratically.

As I walked through the room I heard faint noises coming from other levels of the tower, through the stairwell and above me. An incessant tip-tapping and a droning sound that seemed as if it were emanating from a power generator. I made my way to the stairwell and up the first flight of stairs, hearing the noises get louder as I did. Upon turning the corner I came across another office. Although it was in no better shape than the first, although dust and paper and obsolete machines littered the chamber, there were actually people working here, sitting behind the busted desks and tapping away at typewriters that did not function, talking into phones where there couldn’t have been any connection, reading papers, memos, reports, all of which had the same phrase printed ad nauseum: “Ye who enter, abandon all hope.” And yet these drones read it seriously, pensively, engrossing over every single word as if it were something new, every phrase as if it had never been read before, over and over again in all earnestness. It was like these people had the memory of goldfish, swimming around a bowl and discovering a miniature castle over and over again for the first time until the end of their days. And yet they didn’t understand what they were reading anymore than the fish could understand that what it saw was a castle.

I stood at the threshold of this office for some time, just observing. I decided to enter and walk amongst them; but as I did, none of them were even aware of my presence. They continued with their labor of futility, as if they were content to be cooped up in this dank, dark, decrepit dungeon of a building, in their own little filthy cells, with their own little shackles, custom-made for every single one, yet mass-produced for all. The clothes these drones were wearing were in tatters. What were once tidy, officious suits had now become bedraggled rags that barely clung to their bodies. Their faces were pale and yellow, lifeless and bloodless, having long since lost any hue on their cheeks or glow on their skin. I bumped into one but she didn’t notice me, she just sped forth carrying a big pile of papers under her arm where the same phrase was repeated over and over again. These automatons were the slaves of their ubiquitous mantra. And yet the strange thing was that their mantra seemed more of a warning than an incentive. But it didn’t matter, because they didn’t understand.

I went up another floor, only to find the same scene, and then another, and another. The same faces, the same futility. And when at these ascending altitudes I looked outside the holes in the wall where once were windows, I saw the most magnificent vista, the sun low on the horizon, the golden rays shimmering off the tranquil sea, and a chain of islands - giving no hint of the wretched damnation that they were home to - fading off fantastically into the distance. Yet none of this wretched mob so much as noticed it. It’s not that they shunned it; they just did not see anything in it. They would seal those windows with concrete if they could.

I tried to gain their attention, touching them, holding them, hailing them as they bolted by, but they would not take their sights off their destination, which was just another desk in just another floor and just another title in an endless, meaningless number of titles that parceled out the tower. I looked at the desks and read some of the posts that these drones held. “Assistant Managing Acting Editor of Post-Edition Action Management Assistance” read one title, while another read “Post-Natal Pre-Oedipal Psycho-Neurotic Non-Super Ego-seeking Employee Offspring Councilor M.D.” and there was a four year-old child sitting in front of the desk with a crayon in her hand doodling and scribbling as a bespectacled geriatric doctor followed every spasmodic stroke of her hand with the utmost gravity and seriousness, making sure not to miss a single jolt. Every cubicle hosted yet another pompous, self-important title that bordered on the ludicrous. The only exception was at the end of one particular floor where there was one office that was nominally that of the “Self-Serving Under-Qualified Onanistic Prick, S.M.” but the figure behind the door did not even bother to raise his gaze from the pile of papers that sat before him on his desk as I barged into his room. He too was overly engrossed in the ubiquitous mantra that held all these souls under its spell. I did however notice that he was holding the pile of papers upside down, but he was too engrossed in the magic of the black shapes on the white background to bother to amend his ways.

I was losing patience, so I thought of one last recourse open to me so as to be able to gain their attention. I jumped on a desk in one of the offices and bellowed out at the top of my lungs the very mantra which held sway over the destiny of each and every one of these timorous souls.

“YOU WHO ENTER, ABANDON ALL HOPE!” I shouted, at the top of my lungs. But there was still no notice and the meaningless hustle and bustle continued unabated. Then I realized my own mistake and reissued my proclamation, minus the minor error (an unpardonable sin in any bureaucracy).


All of a sudden the commotion ceased and I had managed to gain the attention of all in the office. They looked up at me with awe, and I stood above them like a mad hierophant, like Ahab. I picked up a metal letter-opener from one of the desks and raised it dramatically above my head, half expecting (to flatter my own sense of self-flattery) a bolt of lightning to strike it as I stood there above them.


And with those booming words I struck my letter-opener/sword down upon a thick heap of office paper. Yet while I was expecting the pile to be sliced through like butter, my sword simply bounced off like a toy. I tried again, and again, all with the same result. I looked up at the bureaucratic mass assembled there before me and all of a sudden I saw a piece of paper being brought in through the entrance of the office and being passed around from cubicle to cubicle, from desk to desk, gathering stamps and signatures as it was passed around every single desk in the office, finally to that of the “Self-Serving Under-Qualified Onanistic Prick, S.M.” who in turn brought the paper over to me. I took the paper into my hands and saw a mass of unintelligible purple and red stamps, apostilles, authorizations and signatures through which I could barely make out the original scrawl that was being authorized and signed and sealed and delivered. Again it was a single sentence and as the assembled mob awaited my next words I read out (more to myself than to the mass):

The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword

All of a sudden the entire assembly of biotimorous bureaucrats chanted in one voice “THE PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD!” It had become their new mantra. They immediately went to work, running to and fro, sending the paper to one office, copying it in another, the typewriters were tapping away like machine-guns, the phones actually started ringing, the machines started working. The commotion spread like wildfire throughout the entire building, all working to produce endless copies of paper with the new mantra “The Pen is Mightier than the Sword.” It seems it had been a long time since the last visitor had given them their previous mantra, and I wondered if I would meet Dante Alighieri somewhere in my own journey.

I descended down the stairs, down the various floors that I had climbed, and headed back to my rowboat, which was waiting for me there in front of the window through which I had entered. I realized that I was not here to change anything, that I could not change anything, nor correct anything for the better. That was not the purpose of my journey. Like the poor souls I had encountered on these seven isles of sin, I too was at the mercy of my own fate and could do naught but simply live it through. I too, like the Ego-Mongers, the Nihilists, the Irenogogues, the Chronophobes, the Self-Debasers and the Biotimorous, I too, like those poor wretches I had encountered, had sinned against my own nature and was facing my sins in hell through the agency of my guilt.

And so I set off to leave the Isles of Sin behind me. But there was one question that had nagged me, one riddle that remained unanswered…

Why did my Ariadne wallow among the Seven Isles of Sin?

A Moment on Earth

He waited for his breathing to die down. The frenzy was not over, and he was breathing hard. His mind was rushing, he could hear the blood flooding through his veins, through his neck, into his face and overwhelming his brain. It was over. He still felt the excitement, the adrenalin was still overflowing within him and his hands were shaking, his eyes were twitching. His tic started up as he thought of what had just happened, he started blinking uncontrollably before he could get a grip of his nerves. It was the same feeling all over again. He felt the shame and the relief intertwine and mutate into a general feeling of depravity. But he felt something else too. He felt power. He felt a surge of energy and strength in his veins, he felt the tautness of his muscles, he saw the protrusion of his veins through his skin. He felt sexually charged, he felt like he was insurmountable, he felt like he could destroy or create at will. He looked at the girl. Her hair was beautiful, brown, smelling of wild apples, flowing over her shoulders and down to her waist. He grabbed a fistful of it and he took a deep smell. He closed his eyes and he thought of just how good it smelt. He ran his fingers across the skin of her arm and he could sense she was cold. He looked at her body and its milky white smoothness, its gorgeous figure, its youth, and it all made him sad – sad of what he did not know, sad of what he might never know, sad that it was over. He didn't look at her eyes, he couldn't. He was always afraid of other peoples' eyes and he could never look into them. It terrified him. He was happy her eyes were closed anyway. And she looked so calm, so serene, so pure lying there.

Then the shame started growing, the feeling of guilt started taking over his mind. His surge of power was giving way to a feeling of dread, of terror. He was afraid. He had to leave. And as he left he didn't look back. He fumbled and groped his way out on to the street, into the dark, with quick, soft, silent steps, jumping from shadow to shadow and away into the night. As he slid away he thought of the girl and he started crying. He was so overwhelmed he had to stop. His violent sobs were choking him, he was trying to clear his eyes of the tears that were drowning them. And he still couldn't get the image out of his mind, the image of the girl. Every time he closed his eyes he saw the girl's face. It seemed to be the same as the face of the girl he had once loved. Every girl had the same face. It was the face of everyone he had ever known in his life. It was the face of everything he had ever feared, loved and despised.

It was only the second time he had ever killed someone.

15. The Deluge

40 days and 40 nights
Would still not suffice
To replenish the teardrop
Shed from a lover's eye

No sooner was I underway, the rain started. At first it was only a weak sprinkle, but it gradually and rapidly grew stronger and stronger, until I felt that the little boat was in danger of sinking. I looked up and found not even a single cloud; just a clear, menacing red sky. I decided to head back to the edifice of the biotimorous to take shelter, but by the time I got there the rain had grown into a powerful torrent and I could see the level of the water rising gradually and consistently until my boat and I were rising so fast that I knew the whole building would be engulfed within a few minutes. I looked out across the Isles of Sin which I had journeyed through and saw that they too, one by one, were being swallowed by the voracious ocean. And as we passed storey after flooding storey of the building, I saw all of those lost biotimorous souls drown one by one, and without even so much as a struggle, without - it seems - even noticing that they were drowning. They just sank and disappeared, as if they really were being eaten - or swallowed - alive by the rising waters. As soon as the water touched them it soaked right through them, as if they were all made of dust or clay, and the bodies crumbled like wet cookies, turning into powdery mud and then dissolving for ever into the convoluted ocean.

When I looked behind me again I saw that all the isles had disappeared, except for one. It was the Isle of Ariadne! And then I made a decision. I suddenly had the urge to go back to her, to save her, to take her with me if I could. The fact that she was still there meant that hers was not an Isle of Sin, that that was merely the island where she had been abandoned and from which perhaps she still had hopes of being rescued. Her island did not sink like those that were heavy with sin. With the zealotry of an apostate who had rediscovered his faith, I set upon this task. All I wanted now was to save her, to be with her, perhaps with the hope that she in turn would save me. A new hope, even happiness, had suffused my senses.

Now the rowboat was nearing the end of the sinking building and it was now itself also close to sinking. As I approached the top of the building with the rising waters, I rested my little boat on its hard surface, tipped out the water, and with the help of the rapidly rising ocean, I tipped the boat upside down and floated off the building and watched beneath me as the last contours of the great clumsy edifice faded away below me and into the dark depths of the voracious ocean.

So now I paddled with the rowboat turned over. I almost expected the boat to once again advance of its own accord, or be propelled by that mysterious force that propelled it before. But not only did this not occur, there in fact seemed to be a force that countered my paddling. So I paddled harder, back to the isle I could barely make out on the horizon, back to my Ariadne. It was a feeling I hadn't felt in a very long time. I felt the simple clarity of doubtlessness, of a total and complete desire for something I knew - really knew - I wanted. When I felt this I knew that nothing could stop me from either reaching my goal or perishing in the process, and since I was already a perished man, I knew I would reach my goal. Even the countercurrent - or whatever the force that fought against me was - even this resistance made me only stronger and emboldened me even more in my task.

My sight remained fixed on the tiny isle until I approached closer and closer and I could now descry the figure of that solitary girl standing there, still looking out at the sea with melancholy, impervious to the rain, impervious to the chill, impervious to her very fate. Her hair was dark now, and wet, and wrapped around her head and twisted around her body like ivy. Her white silken dress was soaked through so that she looked almost naked. And then my heart jumped at a realization. If she was wet from the rain, she was no longer a phantom. She was wet like me and although neither she nor I were flesh and bones, she was at least now in my universe, a part of my journey - or perhaps I was in hers. She would now see me, we would once again touch each other and feel each other’s hands on our skin and in our hair.

So my little rowboat approached the island with a wild, panting infernaut paddling from atop its overturned hull. The island seemed indeed to be floating along with the torrential downpour and the wild currents of this hellish ocean. And there stood Ariadne, with that same distant melancholy look in her eyes, unconscious of all that was happening around her. As I dragged the boat ashore and walked up to her slowly and stood in front of her, she still seemed as distant as she was on my first visit, and she still seemed not to see me. But I noticed that her eyes were blinking now, from the drops of rain that were streaming past them and into them, and her skin seemed to have goosebumps, and her lips were purple, and I could even notice that she was shivering. But she still seemed not to see me standing there in front of her. I approached her and I touched her, and she suddenly jumped, as if awoken from a dream. She looked at me, at this strange figure standing before her. She looked at me with disbelief and fear. I don't know what she saw, what image I would’ve struck her as being. I looked down at my hands and my body and to me they seemed my own hands and body, as I remembered them. But she stood and stared straight into my own eyes. It didn't look like she recognized me, she just seemed to be looking at some indiscernible and meaningless form, like she was suspended helplessly in the moment between seeing something and recognizing it.

I touched her again, and it was as if the spell had been broken. Her stare subsided into an intelligent, comprehending gaze. And her eyes moved around the contours of my face, my hair, my eyes, my lips and then my body, from my head to my foot and then back into my eyes. Her eyes now lost their wild perdition and assumed a sparkle, as if something had been rekindled within her. I noticed I hadn't taken my hand away, it was still touching her hand. It felt like flesh and blood. There was a warmth to her body, beneath the superficial chill and the goosebumps on her skin. She seemed alive, or at least as alive as I was. Although we were both mere infernal phantoms, we were nevertheless animated by our shared memories, the memories of life, the memories of the body, and the memories of each other. Through each other we recreated those memories as we remembered them, and thus we recreated each other.

I squeezed her hand and then I brushed my hand along her wet, cold arm. She was slowly coming to, as if she had awoken from a thousand years of slumber. Her eyes kept blinking - even though the rain seemed to be subsiding - and she had a lingering look of incredulity to her. She then moved her own hand, suddenly, jerkily toward me, but it stopped half-way. Then she looked into my eyes again and stammered something, something with a broken, whispering, hoarse voice, something unintelligible, something lost within her own universe, even though she had almost broken through. She recollected herself and tried again. She lifted her head and wearily she looked into my eyes again. This time she cleared her throat, she wet her lips, she gulped, and she spoke with her own voice, the echoes of which I still recalled from my conscience, and she said... “I know these eyes, I used to look into them...” And she paused and she looked down at our hands. “I know these hands, they used to hold mine, as they do now... And I know those lips, they used to speak to me... But I don't know you, I don't recognize you. Why have you come here? Have you come for me?”

I said I had come to take her with me. She asked me “Why?” and I said “Because this is our final journey.” I paused… “And there is still hope.”

Now the rain had completely ceased. The last drop fell on my eyelash and dripped onto my hand, slid down on to hers, stretched and trembled off her forearm and then dropped to the ground and sank into the earth before us, leaving a shrinking circle of moisture that rapidly closed in on itself before it disappeared completely. I looked back up at her face. She was beautiful, like green pastures after rain, like mists over the ocean, like the light of the sun shining from the face of the moon.

She said to me, “Hope? Hope is what brought me here in the first place.”

16. The Isle of Oneiroclasts

What sweet romances
Can we bring to life
In just one lifetime
- Or two -
You and I?

And so we set off, Ariadne and I, down past the waters where the isle of the biotimorous had been swallowed by the ocean, and where now only floated a big brown blotch in the water. The rowboat carried on again of its own accord. The skies were clear and darkening, the waters were calm again. I looked at Ariadne who still looked bewildered and lost. She seemed not to recognize me. I asked her what she saw when she looked at me, but she did not to hear me, or she simply did not answer.

When the sky had darkened with its now familiar, dark-red tinge, we came upon an island. From afar I saw there was a bright glowing hemisphere that spread over the island, as if it had its own atmosphere. As we approached closer we could discern shapes dancing around in the glow overhead. They were images of people, dancing, singing, phantasmal simulacra. We ventured inland and were confronted by the eeriest of spectacles: There lay a mass of figures, each of them lying still on the ground, strewn as far as the eye could see, gazing up at these dancing images overhead as if they were all mesmerized by what they saw. Their eyes were wide-open but they did not respond to anything but these images. We too looked up at the images and noticed how extraordinary they were: images of success, of love, of greatness, of happiness, of children, of beautiful landscapes and intrepid adventures. I couldn’t help notice that each image and each figure was that of its beholder, and the image seemed to project from the very eyes of the beholder. Each one of these souls that were lying supine and gazing up at the sky was lost in their own image, of failed dreams, perhaps, or unfulfilled dreams, dreams that they had never pursued, dreams they had lost out of fear, or sloth, or laziness, dreams that would now haunt them and captivate them for the rest of eternity, never out of their mind, never out of their sight, forever confronted by their own wasted hopes and dreams. Perhaps it was this regret that kept them mesmerized. There was intelligence and animation in their eyes. Their pupils would dilate and contract, their eyelids would open and close, their gazes would follow the dancing images with utter devotion. Nevertheless, they were lost, and their broken dreams formed the very air they breathed. It was an oneirosphere that they could not exist without.

We tried to turn back at once but found that there had suddenly formed behind us a whole mass of bodies, as if they'd closed in as soon as we had set foot on the island and had proceeded only a short distance inland. I couldn't even see the beach and the little rowboat behind me. I knew then that we were fated to cross this island, though I had no idea how. The ground was thick with bodies. I looked at Ariadne, but she was insensible to what was going on around her. She too was looking up around her and above her with a smile on her face and a look of pleasure. I asked her what she saw. She said, “Life,” and she laughed like a little girl. I took her hand and tried to make our way through the mass of bodies, trying to find a footing between the mass of limbs and hair and flesh, but there was not even enough space for that. Yet I noticed that none of these souls cared if I stepped on them, on their stomachs or even on their faces. They just kept looking up and tried desperately to follow the images of their lost dreams. So we made our way lugubriously, tiredly, clumsily through this canopy of flesh. We eventually came to a clearing - or rather, the clearing seemed to come to us, appearing all of a sudden, swallowing up the bodies that were strewn over the surface, and then speeding at us, out from its epicenter, with its rim coming to a sudden halt at our feet.

There were no more images overhead. We looked behind us and saw no more bodies, just the distant glow of the oneirosphere. In this mysterious clearing it was dark. We entered the clearing cautiously. There was an object a few meters from us. We saw that it was our own little open air theater, with two seats for us and what seemed to be a machine - an ancient, almost antique projector. Ariadne seemed truly amazed by everything she was seeing. She was like a child discovering a new world – as was I, I suppose, but more with dread than with wide-eyed curiosity. I still held her hand in mine and I led her slowly to our seats where we sat down and waited. There was no movie, there was no projection. I looked around for any sign of movement, but there was nothing. There was no animation to this desolate scene, except for the stars, the ubiquitous deep-sea breeze, and Ariadne's radiating eyes.

I heard the sound of shuffling feet far ahead of us, in the darkness. The feet sounded slow and heavy, as if it were that of an old and heavy, clod-footed man. It was only after more heavy shuffling that a shadowy form could be discerned, coming our way. The creature had enormous, muscular limbs, large hands and feet with long, sharp nails. His head was large, bulbous, with sporadic tufts of hair, large round eyes that were not so fearsome as they were melancholy. His skin was rough, pale and sickly; his lips, ears and nose were large, and he dragged one of his legs behind him dutifully, wearily. He came toward us, mumbling in a deep bellowing tone, before going past us without so much as even glancing our way. He took his place behind us, behind the projector. I couldn't help but feel there was something familiar about him, about his eyes. Ariadne had followed his movements all the way and her head remained twisted, looking behind her at this strange creature. The ogre turned his projector on and a dull red light from atop the antique machine reflected from the ogre's old, tired face. And then the light emanated from the lens of the projector, beamed right through us, and rose up into the starry universe above.

At first we could see our own shadows reflected up into the night sky. Then we started feeling lighter and lighter, lighter than air, to the point where we began feeling a floating sensation. We were indeed floating, up, into our own shadows, into the light that the ogre shone through us, as if the sky were alive with the shadows from the contents of our bodies, minds and souls – as if we ourselves shone forth from within us. Ariadne and I embraced as we looked into each other's eyes. We were literally dancing on air. Our steps were gliding effortlessly, weightlessly along the rays of light projected from below. We twirled and we laughed to an endless song that rang in our ears simultaneously. It was her song of the pixies. And we made out the shapes of the room where we used to live, circling around us, shining and full with the warmth of the summer sun. We never said a word, we just laughed and danced for what seemed an eternity. I thought she had finally recognized me, and that everything had for that moment - for that long, suspended, endless moment - gone back to when everything was right, when we were alive and the future was ours, full of promise and full of hope.

But then we started to feel weighty again, and we started to sense the heaviness of our bodies as we gently glided back down to the isle, riding the last fading rays that emanated from between the hands of the ogre, until we were back in our seats, until she was back in her seat. But I was not beside her. I was standing behind her, and in my hands stood the projector, and she sat in front of me, with the seat beside her empty, even though I thought I was occupying it only a moment ago. The light was now gone. I looked around me, for the ogre. But I saw no one. I looked down at my hands, and they were the hands of an ogre. When I looked up I saw Ariadne's head twisted behind her, as it had been before, with her gaze fixed on me, just as it was before, when she was looking at the ogre.

I took her by the hand and we made our way onward, to the shore where our rowboat lay. I noticed then that we were going back the same way from whence the ogre had emerged, and that my steps were crooked, and my feet were deformed.

We were in the rowboat, riding the waters again, leaving the isle of the oneiroclasts behind us. I turned to Ariadne and I asked her what she saw before her. She said, "I see you… Monster."

A Moment on Earth

When the nurse left the room she was finally alone. Her daughter had left an hour before and she was glad to have seen her again. It had been weeks since her last visit. But now, at the end of the day, she was finally alone and she felt relieved. She looked outside her window from her bed. It was a glorious afternoon. The sky was assuming its familiar incarnadine glow of a late autumn day and the light seemed to infuse life to all that it reached. She looked up at the sky and saw that there were only the remnants of the clouds that had passed high overhead all day. She wanted to go outside before it would be dark again, before yet another day would pass and be lost to her forever. She loved the light at this hour, she always had. As a girl she remembered her family holidays when she would play until nightfall and swim by the creek until she would have to go back inside and look forward to the morning with impatience. Now so many years later, all she had left were these late autumn afternoons. After all the years with her family, her husband and her children, her travels and her work, after all these years, she was home again, where it had all started, where all her memories converged. She decided to leave her room and go out on her own. She thought "to hell with the nurse, I’ll go outside once again, on my own." She gruffly turned down the nurse's offer to accompany her. She ignored the nurse's words of caution. She went outside alone. The day was so much more magnificent on the outside, she thought. The googling of the magpies, the smell of the yasmin and the maple trees, the soothing sound of the rushing creek overflowing with the recent rain, all seemed so intoxicating to her that for a moment it brought tears to her eyes. At that moment she thought again of her daughter and hoped that she would be well, that she would not lose everything there was to lose by being careless with life, by letting things slip away. She hoped her daughter would enjoy these days as she herself had. And then she thought of her granddaughter and she started laughing. Her laughter did not cease, it went on and on and reverberated in the still, translucent air like a pulse beating from the heart of the earth itself.

She had outlived her husband and two of her children. She thought at that moment that all she wanted, if only it were possible, was that they would all be together once again just for this moment, just for a minute, there in the garden of the ancient house where generations of her ancestors had stood before her and with her.

And for just that one moment, like a child, she believed again in ghosts.

17. Whirlpool Arms and Peacock Eyes

Down, down, down we go,
With our fallen pride,
Down, down, down we go,
Two lost souls,
Where even the demons hide

As our boat glided on across the ocean we both regressed into our solitude. I had assumed the form of an ogre. That was the way Ariadne saw me now. Perhaps it was the first time she saw who - or what - I really was. That was the justice that was her due after having been forsaken by my cowardice and betrayal all those years ago. I had assumed the very form of my own guilt - and worse, the loneliness that arises from guilt. That feeling of loneliness had haunted me on earth and it kept its stranglehold on me here. My conscience had become all that it had despised in itself. I pondered with dread upon the possibility of spending an eternity in this state of despair, in this prolonged state of emotional catatonia. And then Ariadne spoke to me and the ruptured silence startled me.

"I do," she said, "...recognize your eyes. And your lips. I know you..."

"Yes, you know me."

We both looked away again, out to the surreal expanse that bled out of us and was all around us. It was strange to behold such colors, such sights as these in such a dire universe and in such a dire predicament. They were things never before seen on earth, colors and shapes and creatures without precedent.

"Ariadne," I ventured, hesitatingly, wanting to find out more about her, and to find out more about myself. "Do you know where you are?"

"Yes," she said. "I'm in hell."

"Do you know how you came to be here?"

"Yes. But why do you call me by that name?"

"Ariadne?" I asked myself out loud. It seemed a silly question but I didn't know the answer. "I don't know." I said finally, surprised by the fact. "When I found you, you seemed like Ariadne, daughter of King Minos, abadoned by Theseus on a lonely isle, lost to the world, abandoned by love."

"No," she interrupted. "Not by love. It was hope that abandoned me. It was hope that brought me to that desolate isle and then left me there, alone."

Then I asked her if she knew her name, but she too seemed surprised to find she didn't.

"What is your name?" she asked, to which I replied that I too didn't know. There was silence again. The ripples of the water were the only sounds that could be heard. There were no birds, no machines or ships or other souls traversing the hellish seas. There was no sun or moon now. Just light, color, water, and us.

"Tell me Ariadne, how did you come to be here?" I asked again. I wanted to hear her story. The clash of love and shame, guilt and remorse was tearing me apart. "How did it happen?"

She did not answer me. Nobody comes here, I thought. Nobody comes to hell. Hell comes to us. It finds us. It traces our weaknesses and then feeds off of them like a parasite. And we can't see that hell is our own creation, that its significance lies wholly in what we lack, in what makes us weak, in what we’re ashamed to face within us. But we face it here, now, and forever. The geography of hell is the biography of our lives and the catalogue of our shame.

"And am I in your hell, or are you in mine?" I asked.

"We are a part of each other's hell, that much seems to be the case," she answered.

"Yes," I said. "That much seems to be the case."

As I said this I decided not to go on any further with my questions. I felt a knot in my throat, I felt a sense of anxiety and helplessness. Even though my Ariadne was here in front of me, she had never been more distant. The estrangement was total, the loneliness gripped me like a vice. I wanted to tear my flesh off my bones, I wanted to lose myself completely and utterly. I asked one final question.

"Do you know who I am?"

She looked at me for a moment, straight into my eyes.

"Of course," she said finally. "I've known monsters before."

The journey carried on down its own course. The waters gradually became more turbid. A hot suffocating wind started blowing. We were headed for something and I braced myself. Ariadne's face grew more and more solemn. A strong current started tugging our boat faster and faster down its interminable course. And then, what seemed a long distance away, I noticed the waters beginning to sink with the current circling around it broadly, but gradually tightening and moving closer and closer into the eye of a humungous whirlpool. I noticed the depression in the epicenter was sinking deeper and deeper. We were headed straight for it. Thunder and lightening clapped above our heads amid thick, dark clouds that appeared as if out of nowhere. We held on to the edge of the boat as the turbulent waters drew us in. Now our boat was tilted downwards from the port side and we began our descent. A wall of rushing water rose up around us as we surfed around and around in an ever-increasing angle, with ever-increasing speed, in ever-tightening circles.

As we twirled down into the abyss, I felt something touch me from behind. I looked to my left thinking it was Ariadne, but she was too far away and clinging on the upper edge of the boat with both hands. I heard a loud thud on the bottom of the boat, and then a few more, as if we were hitting objects in the water. I thought I was imagining things. Then I felt a hand grasp my shoulder. I turned around quickly, just in time to see a pale, skinny, withered arm contract back into the wall of water from whence it had emerged. My skin crawled. I saw more arms emerge from the waters that eddied around us, until there were hundreds of them grasping and clawing their way out of the water. I felt dozens of arms, hands and cold fingers on my back, on my shoulders, my arms, some touching, some rubbing, some grasping at me, some trying to sink their nails into my skin. I looked over at Ariadne and saw that she too was experiencing the same thing, but she showed no sign of panic or fear, just a fateful surrender. It was a hideous sight. The knocking and bumping under the boat grew louder, more frequent, shaking the boat as we rode over the flesh and bones that continually arose from under us to hamper us on our plunging path. As the swirl tightened, the hands grew more and more multitudinous. All of them seemed to be the same arm and the same hand, as if they all belonged to the same body. The arms were now thick all around us, tightening and engulfing the whole boat. We were in a forest of cold, slimy, wet, withered limbs and we could hear the sound of flesh and bones hitting and slapping with such profusion that it evolved into a deafening din in the increasingly confined space. I tried to shout but my voice was muffled by a hand that covered my mouth. Others moved all over my face, my neck, my body, grasping, clutching, pulling, scratching. The hands then fixed upon us, upon every inch of our bodies, and pulled us down into the depths with the force of an army.

The overwhelming claustrophobic darkness had smothered us. When I closed my eyes, a face appeared before me and then quickly disappeared. But it was a vivid impression. It seemed like the face of a man, a handsome man, with prominent cheekbones and a strong jaw, with no hair, a pale complexion and a sincere, almost mischievous smile. He was most certainly a man, except that (and I saw this clearly), the man had the eyes of a peacock.

I passed out as my mind spun away into the dizzying depths.

18. The Path of Riddles

I see your face in the trees,
I see your face in the mountains
And in the lakes,
I see your face on the tiny wings of a bee
And in the veins of a leaf

I'm happy to know that
Wherever I look
I see your face
Looking back at me

The first thing I saw when I came to was a monstrous tornado hovering directly above me. I noticed the sky was strange, still blue, but wavy, opaque, like liquid. It was a sky of water, a great blue ocean overhead, and what hovered above me was not a tornado but the giant whirlpool that had sucked us down even deeper into the infernal realm. The eye of the whirlpool swayed this way and that and the sound of the churning waters was loud, like a million waterfalls pouring into a basin. I got up and looked around me. It was light, like day, and I saw the rowboat lying a few meters away from me. It was tilted on one side, much the worse for wear, not so sea-worthy anymore. It looked strange sitting there on dry land, so out of place. I looked about me and saw that I was in a valley with large and fairly steep hills rising on both sides. I was pleasantly surprised that the terrain was not hot, dry, barren, but rather verdant, even Arcadian. The air was crisp and clean, the temperature was pleasant. I noticed the boat seemed to be sinking, but when I looked closer I was surprised to find that it was in fact decomposing before my very eyes, being eaten away by the fecundity of life that thrived in this valley. The whole of the little rowboat that had been my protector, my guide and my companion was eaten away in very short time and I felt sad to see it go. As the boat disintegrated, the teeming mass of life that was devouring it - the ants and the bacteria and the beetles and the worms - all formed the shape not of the crumpled boat but of a man lying on the ground. In fact the features of the man's face were so distinct that I could recognize it, despite the constant motion of the insects and the microbes that were creating it as they were obliterating it. It was the face of my father. It was his face as a youth, as I once remembered it engrained in my mind. He had the same expression as in my earliest memories, of love, of possession, of pride. My eyes welled with tears as I saw him there and as I thought of what must have been our last journey together, of our travels on the oceans of hell, of our memories of life that flooded back to me, of everything I had said, and of all the things I never did say, never could say, never even tried to say. But the thought of our final journey redeemed me, and my sorrow gave way to joy, the joy of having shared one last journey with him - perhaps the most important journey of all. In a few moments the shape disintegrated as the swarming multitudes dispersed and all that was left was the soil and the grass. I placed my palm on the ground to say my final goodbye as one last, lonely teardrop fell and sank into the rich, green earth.

I rose up and looked around me again. The great whirlpool spun overhead. I instinctively looked at my hands and found not the monstrous claws of an ogre but my own hands, the hands I remembered from my days on earth. I realized that Ariadne was not there. Perhaps if she had been there I would still have the appearance of an ogre. But there was absolutely no trace of her. I set off to look for her. I climbed a hill and as my eyesight came over the crest of the hill, I was amazed by the view before me. There stretched out the most beautiful of landscapes, here in this vast infernal seabed. Valley after fertile, wooded valley stretched on and away as far as the eye could see. It was a bucolic paradise, like the Garden of Pleasures that already seemed so distant, so long ago. There were birds flitting from tree to tree and all sorts of forest animals, deer and rabbit, fox and bear. I was staggered. The ocean sky, the hanging whirlpool shifting this way and that, the blue reflection upon the earth from the water above, the valleys stretching before me… it all felt so soothing. I headed down into the valley and set off on my path – or rather, to discover my path. As always, my walk would be without purpose, without destination, even though purpose and destination would find me eventually. That much I had learned. But my first thought was to find Ariadne, although I knew it must be ridiculous to try to do so in a universe such as this, where everything is ephemeral, flitting, illusory, where souls and forms and figures are all mere chameleons of the mind. I did so nevertheless, because I could not do otherwise. For we ultimately live in spite of ourselves, and whether we will something or not is insignificant if our Will wills otherwise.

So I kept walking, taking in the splendor I saw blossoming all around me as if enjoying the first day of spring. I walked for some time, often with my gaze fixed above me, infatuated as I was with the liquid sky that churned and glowed in all shades of blue. Behind me I still saw the massive whirlpool twisting through the sky. I kept walking for some time, until I came upon a road. It seemed to appear from nowhere, as I'm sure I would've spotted it far before I actually reached it. But there it was, a stone-paved road that wound its way off through the hills and through the forests. And so I followed this path for some time. I wondered if Ariadne had also encountered the path and if whether she might actually be ahead of me on the same path. Thinking thus, I quickened my steps and hastened forth, eager as I was to find her. Soon I had entered the forest. It was eerily calm and quiet, almost too quiet. Nevertheless I sped forth on the path that wound tightly through the dense vegetation and the tall silent trees. My haste had also grown by this time and my footsteps broke out into a run. I wanted to get out of the forest, I wanted to find Ariadne, I wanted...


I ground to a sudden halt. A great tall and dark figure stood before me in the middle of the path. I let out a scream as I barely avoided running into it. My heart seemed to jump out of my chest. But the figure did not budge. It stood there, silent and aloof. I had fallen over in the terror of the moment. As I looked up from where I lie I saw a most awesome creature towering before me. It was hooded and cloaked and I couldn't make out its face or any shape to its body. It was twice my height and it stood silent for a moment waiting for me to come to my senses. Shaking, I rose to my feet and confronted this presence. I dare not speak but waited for the creature to do something, or say something. A cold wind swept through the forest and moaned through the branches and leaves of the densely clustered trees. The day grew dark. The aquasphere above me was churning and stormy. The creature's black, empty face glowered down at me. Another gust of wind whipped up and hissed and flooded through the leaves, louder than before. The great form before me stood firm, completely silent. At the third gust of wind, the hissing grew loud and I realized it was the voice of the beast, as if the voice and the wind were one.

"You have strayed," it said in a low eerie whisper. "You have strayed far," it repeated.

I was too overwhelmed to respond, and didn't think it wanted any response.

"What is your destination?" it asked, drawing the first vowel out long and hauntingly.

"I..." I lost heart for a moment then regrouped, "I... don't know."

It was silent for a while, then rejoined.

"Then you must find out, mustn’t you?"

"How?" I asked, feeling more confident. My voice sounded loud and strange. A stronger wind than before now blew, and it grew particularly loud when the mysterious figure spoke again.

"By choosing the right path…"

As the creature said this it moved aside – as if floating on air – and I saw that the road behind him had bifurcated whereas before, as far as I could remember, it had been one path. Even though the creature had stood aside, it never took its vacuous gaze off of me.

"But how do I choose the right path?" I asked.

And the creature said, "By first creating the right path, and then by finding it. Only then can you choose it. Only then can you be sure that the choice is yours. Only then can you be sure that the choice is right." Having said this with its haunting voice, the spectral figure glided back into the center of the path and stood directly before me once again.

"And how do I create my path?"

"By knowing what you already know." The answer confounded me.

"What is it I already know?"

"What you already know is the answer to a riddle."

"But... what is the riddle?"

"What has no past but only a future, yet never sees the future except through the past?"

"Fate." I answered. I did know the answer. The creature was silent. He stood aside once again and I saw that one of the paths had disappeared and that there was only one path again, though it went a different direction to what I had recalled. The wraith then spoke once more. The wind picked up again, almost throwing me off my feet.

"You see, traveler, that you know what you know."

"And how do I create from what I know?"

"That is the answer to the second riddle: Where what will and what was will never and were never but always and only are..."

To this I answered immediately, instinctively, "The Present. The future and the past only have meaning within the present and our fate is that which is perpetually created in the present, that which I create in the infinite ever-present."

The creature stood silently before me once more. I awaited its next riddle. Finally the haunting voice whispered:

"And now you must find your path, traveler. You see now that you know what you know, that you perpetually create your fate and that you are responsible for it, that you are no longer a peon pushed, nor a leaf blown, nor a little boat swept along by the current. You are the creator of your fate, you know that now, as you always knew it. Your fate is not solid, it is not teleological. Your fate is ever-changing, ever-forming and reforming, ever-creating and recreating. Your fate is the ever-present. Your fate is actually something else."

I was baffled by this last sentence, "Your fate is actually something else." And then the specter put forth the third riddle:

"Now tell me traveler, how will you choose your path?" And having said that, the creature did not proceed to pose a riddle as I expected but stood aside once again. This time I was staggered to find not one, or even two paths, but many paths, countless, winding, stretching off in a dizzying array into the forest. "How will you choose your path?" the creature repeated.

This was the most perplexing riddle of all and the first two led to this most important of riddles. How can I choose that which I already know and that which I perpetually create, have created and will create, and know that it is right? I looked at the myriad paths before me. All seemed the same. And then I realized something. There was no right answer. If our fate is something that is not preordained and, contrary to the accustomed meaning of what "fate" is, if it is something ever-changing, then there can be no right path or right decision in itself. The right path itself can only be created in the present - in the ever-present. Thus that which we had considered fate was an illusion, a prop with which to deny and protect ourselves from responsibility for our "fate." But that too becomes absurd, if the preordinance of fate is thus denied then it is no longer fate. And fate also precludes free-will and the possibility of choice or decision vis-a-vis our path. So it is in fact destiny that we have left to us. It is destiny that I had discovered.

And so I had unwittingly evolved from a fateful creature to a creature of destiny, from one ever fearful of the present, to one who affirms and molds it. Of course! The only escape from the hell of my own self, a hell of my own creation, was to learn not to flee, fear and shy from myself, but to affirm, face and take hold of myself, to face my guilt, my shame, my memories, my pride, no matter how painful, no matter how debilitating it would be. I had wallowed in these infernal depths as if trapped in my own psyche. I had faced the representations of my fears, hoping they would disperse, that the way out would simply appear before me if I just kept going forth blindly, that an end would come of its own accord, that fate would follow its course oblivious of me. I was a slave. Now I could see my folly. I could take my journey in my own hands. I could see that the only way out was to be my journey, to know what I know, to be what I am, to create my own path, and to take it, thus to find my own salvation from this eternally recurring nightmare… from myself.

"So," I said after a long pause, "it is no longer fate which we are talking of; it is destiny. Fate is the illusion."

The wind now eased, until it was merely a light breeze. The creature raised its hand to bid me pass, whispering as I did:

"Traveler, beware. You are no longer shielded by your ignorance."

19. The Road Never Traveled

Live, seek, destroy, create,
You are the repository
Of all that is prophesied
That has felt pain, joy, and exception,
Of all the futures that will be
Of all the futures that have already been
You are here, you are now, you are all,
The blood that bleeds,
The heart that pounds,
The muscles that launch

Having overcome my fear in the labyrinth and having conquered my fateful submission on the path of riddles, I set off down the road that stretched wide and clear before me. I knew that I would find Ariadne on this road. I also had a premonition of what else I would find. I saw clearer now; I saw myself, I saw my future, I saw my destiny. For some strange reason, the creature I had first encountered, the hunchbacked beast with the peacock eyes, was now even more vivid in my mind. Although consciousness takes its toll on our dreams as time takes its toll on our memories, the image of the peacock eyes maintained its vitality, as if I was still dreaming it even now.

The forest grew sparse around me and the trees grew smaller and smaller until I was walking through shrubs and bushes. Soon the forest gave way to rolling hills with grass the color of blue - the color of the ocean sky above. I looked behind me and saw in the far distance the whirlpool in the aquasphere, and now it looked like a tiny screw trying to force its way through a massive blue cloth that would not tear or yield.

I felt vibrant and alive, as if I were flesh and bones again rather than a phantom lost in its own memories of life, trapped in its own labyrinth of death. I felt I was no longer a mere conscience or a ghost of the netherworld, but a being, of body and soul. It was almost like the feeling of being alive.

As I was soon lost in my own thoughts and entranced by the extraordinary scenery unfolding before me, I was startled all of a sudden by a loud flapping noise right above my head. I jumped and turned, and then turned again, but saw nothing. I looked upwards and saw something like a large, fat bird flapping its wings and flying away from me. Before I could continue on my way I heard another loud commotion and this time felt the wind from the flapping wings of the next bird as it passed me and flew on. I looked around again to see if there were more coming and sure enough I had just turned in time to see one approaching, less than a meter away from me. I saw then that it was not a bird at all but a human head, with a face and with wings on either side of its head! As I turned, this creature quickly changed course and avoided me. I saw there were more behind it, each of them with a different face – a whole flock of flying heads! They passed by me and over me, seemingly oblivious of me and generally following the direction of the path that I was following. The expression on their faces was that of boredom and listlessness, as if they were simply following commands. Some would follow me with their eyes as they flew by, some would just give me a quick glance and keep flying, others flew around me a few times and sized me up and down or stared into my eyes for a while before they moved on. A few dozen of these cephalodrones (as I fancied I would call them, the word just surprisingly popping up in my mind) passed by as I watched their clumsy flight. Soon they disappeared over the hills ahead like lugubrious, over-fed ravens.

One of these cephalodrones had remained behind however, and it seemed especially interested in me. Unlike its eerie cohorts, this one had a look of intelligence in its eyes that betrayed itself through its curiosity. It had a keenness and quickness to its features: a protruding, slightly snubbed nose, small, beady and alert eyes, thin wet lips, a small cleft and double chin, perpetually furrowed eyebrows, and a large forehead. It flitted around my head, sometimes flying too close so that I had to duck or dodge or even shoo it away. I wondered at that moment what my appearance was exactly, and sure enough, upon looking down at my body, it was my "own" figure, not that of an ogre. I decided to simply ignore this strange creature and carry on down my path. The creature kept following me and after a while it started to annoy me with all its flapping and gazing, so I decided to finally address it.

"What is it? What do you want?" I said with exasperation.

The creature answered me immediately: "What?" it said in a jocund manner. "What's what?" it repeated.

"Yes that's right," I said. "WHAT?"

"Yes I know, what?" it said somewhat mockingly.

"You tell me what!"

"What's what?" it said again, as if it were asking me a question.

"What do you mean what's what?" I said.

"Well I'd have to know what what is before I tell you what, wouldn't I? I mean what could be anything."

I was stumped. "What do you mean?" I asked bemusedly.

"How could I know what I mean if I don't know what what is?" it replied. It was obviously insane.

"What do you mean, what what means?" I went on, knowing I shouldn't.

"I mean precisely that, what, dear sir, is what?"

"How should I know," I said, "you tell me what you're doing, and we’ll both find out what it is!"

"Are you mocking me sir," it said annoyingly. "How can one do what if one does not know what it is that is what?"


"Precisely... what?"

I was at the end of my tether and decided to ignore this irritating creature. Nevertheless it kept following me and sizing me up. I walked over hill after blue hill but the creature wouldn't leave me alone. Against my better judgment I stopped and decided to address it again. It seemed surprised that I'd stopped walking, and it hovered in front of me awaiting my next move.

"Listen," I said, "what do you want?"

"What? How could I want what I don't know? What is what and why would I want it?"

"Why! Yes, why indeed. Here's a question for you: WHY are you following me?"

"Why am I following you?" it asked incredulously. "But I thought you were following me!"

"What?" I exclaimed incredulously myself.


"How could I be following you if you are behind me?"

"What does it matter if I am behind you? We are going in the same direction, to the same destination. The destination is in front of you, and it is my destination, therefore you are following me by following my destination."

"No," I said, "It's my destination too."

"Is it? Then tell me where you are going."

I was at a loss.

"I don't know where I am going, I'm just following this road."

"Well I know where I am going, but you don't. So wouldn't it be silly for me to follow you? It would however be reasonable for you to follow me..."

"NO!" I interrupted, "I am merely following this road, therefore I don't need to follow you!"

"Well do you know where this road goes?" it asked me again.

"No!" I said with frustration.

"Then that doesn't make sense either. Why would you follow a road if you don't know where it goes? I know where the road goes, that's why you're following me."


"For now, but what if you lose the road? What if it ends, what if it divides into many roads, what if there is a massive fork in the road? Will you still be following the road then? And if you do, which road will you follow?"

I felt I was going insane. I gave up arguing.

"Ok. I said. You win. I'm following you. Now tell me, where does this road lead?"

"Ah, only you can know that," it said. I couldn't believe my ears!

"What do you mean?! I thought you said you knew where this road goes?"

"Yes, I know that this road goes somewhere only you can know."

"So really then I am the only one who knows?"

"Yes, but I am the only one of us who knows that only you can know, therefore it's really me who knows."

"But that's insane! Only I can know!"

"But if you knew then you wouldn't ask me where the road goes, would you?"

"Well," I hesitated, "no."

"Then what I know is that only you know, which is more than even you know, therefore I know more than you."

I was on the point of losing my mind.

"Besides," it added with all seriousness, "what do I need a road for? I have wings."

I decided to be quiet and simply follow the road. I tried to focus once more on what had passed before, on the test with the enigmatic riddler in the forest and how it had said that I should beware and that I was no longer ‘shielded by my ignorance.’ I was no longer a blind follower of fate, which in itself is a dissimulation of reality, a contortion trick meant to protect and shield us from the vagaries of life by absolving us of responsibility of our own lives and allowing us to submit to our own mistakes by calling it ‘misfortune’ or ‘kismet’ or simply ‘fate.’ A man of destiny is a spontaneous creator, a man who takes responsibility for his life, for his decisions, for his choices, for his successes and also his errors, for his happiness and also his misery. I was now free of the ignorance of fatefulness. Therefore I could not simply follow my path anymore as I had until now, in life as also in death. I must create my own path, my own road now. Even this insane flying monstrosity was telling me this in its own way.

So I stopped. I sat in the middle of the road, I crossed my legs. The cephalodrone didn't seem surprised. It still had its keen and curious eyes fixed on me as it continued to hover overhead. And although I sat there, I wasn't quite sure what to do. I looked up at the hovering headache with a sense of uncertainty and doubt, feeling almost as if I needed guidance. The head kept staring at me with furrowed brows. I looked at the road in front of me. I waited, though for what I don't know. I just waited. But this seemed the same as following a road blindly. I was still waiting for something to happen to me. I thought I must do something, something to take charge. But as to what I should do I had absolutely no clue. And then one thought entered my mind with clarity, despite the semantic confusion of the last few hours spent in the company of the cephalodrone. It was the thought of Ariadne.

So I closed my eyes and I thought of her.

A Moment on Earth

He slung his little black backpack over his shoulder and crouched behind the wall as he waited for the guards to go back inside. It was past midnight and he would use the cover of darkness to enter the school. He checked his bag. His torch, his pocket knife and his cans of spray-paint were all there. He checked over the wall again and spotted one last guard, but it looked like he was sleeping. He decided that he would do this quickly and without too much thought. He'd already planned the exploit too well to leave anything to thought. So in he went, climbing over the fences and onto the rubbish tip. He then proceeded quickly to the gates that separated his school block from the sports hall. He pulled himself up on to the gate and looked again to see if the guard was about. He still seemed fast asleep. The window to the last class on the first floor of the building was supposed to be open, since he'd jammed a gob of chewed bubble gum into the window's keyhole so that it could not be locked and so that no one would bother to clean it out until the summer holidays. He gave a push, and sure enough it was not locked. He took a deep breath and jumped in and found the entire school all to himself. The empty classrooms, the empty corridors, the silence was all like a dream, and he had trouble getting started on his task. He saw moonlight - thick as if it were solid - streaming through the equidistant corridor windows, and he saw a cat run through the moon’s pouring rays. He wanted to savor this moment before all hell broke loose. And contrary to the feelings of anticipation and excitement that gripped him for weeks leading up to this day, he felt a strange sense of calm, even of relaxation. He felt like a ghost there, alone, silent, as if he were not really himself but a mere representation of himself. And he would leave his mark on the school like a ghost. No one would see him, no one would hear him, but they would see writing in red left on the walls from the ghost nobody ever saw. And so he enjoyed his total yet momentary estrangement from the world, and he set to his task like a mad anarchist. He would leave his mark on classroom after classroom and corridor after corridor, floor after floor until his paint ran out. He laughed as he wrote, incredulous of the moment himself. His laughter grew louder and louder and he lost himself in the empty, dark, surreal, labyrinthine corridors of the school, and of his mind. The excitement and adrenalin were gushing like torrents and he could hear and even feel the blood pounding through his body. He left the empty cans behind. He left the school behind. He took his mad smile with him back out of the window, back over the gate, back over the tip and over the fence and he ran away, he ran until the school finally became a part of his memories. He had fought the school and now he had scored his own victory. He had fought the oppression, he had fought its debilitating, suffocating discipline, he had fought all the dead and dying wretches who took out their complexes on him, on his friends, on youth itself. He had broken the shackles of silence and helplessness. He went into a stall and he drank a bottle of sour cherry juice, his favorite. He wanted to burst with pleasure, he wanted to sate every single urge and desire then and there. His feelings had swelled to such a degree that he felt he could implode any minute. He felt inebriated. He was absolutely drunk with himself. He opened his mouth, closed his eyes, and extended his tongue. He could taste the whole universe on the tip of his tongue.

He was 16. It was the first time he discovered he had a voice, and it left him absolutely speechless.

20. To the Shining Gates

Come to me now, come to me,
I am the conflagration at the center of the universe,
I am the confluence of all of its paths

See me now, see me,
For all roads have led to me
And all roads will lead from here

Like the eye of a storm,
I sit silent and still
While winds thrash around me,
Twisting and churning,
Upon my silent Will

My eyes were closed for a while. When I opened them the world around me looked different. I looked to see the whirlpool just to keep my bearings, but it wasn't visible anymore. I looked up to see the cephalodrone, and it was still there, flapping and staring at me. Then I noticed that the land around me was moving. The trees, the road, the blue hills, they were all swaying as if they were lying on a foundation of water. I noticed everything was getting bigger and bigger, as if they were encroaching upon me. And they were encroaching upon me! At first slowly and then more and more rapidly until I could see everything rushing at me from all sides. The trees, the grass, the hills, the water above. The earth below was rising. The road was winding back into me, where I remained seated! A great whooshing sound was rising in my head, like an engine, like a freight train, like a locomotive, louder and louder, until I was shaking from the noise and the images. It was the same noise I heard in the dream with the pink room. It was the deafening sound of loneliness. With one final, violent surge, everything - the whole universe - gushed forth and fell upon me from all sides. I thought I would be crushed, and as I was about to scream, there descended all around me darkness and silence. And then it was pure calm.

I tried to open my eyes but realized they were already open. It was black. I looked down at myself and saw nothing. It was extremely disorienting. Had I become nothingness? Was I nothing? But I was still somehow conscious, conscious of my self, conscious of existence - or at least conscious of the existence of my consciousness. That was something. I tried to say something but of course nothing came out. I had no brain, no nerves, no muscles, no vocal cords with which to even know how to talk. And yet I still had the memory of speech, for I was thinking, and my thoughts were inextricably wrapped in words. It was a bizarre state of being. I didn't even have eyes. It was as if I was living in my own mind. All the representations and images and forms that I encountered in Hell, that I created as I created my own hell, all of these were no more. I had no body. To be free of the body was extraordinary. I felt ethereal, I felt a lightness I'd never felt before, like I was lightness itself, or like I was the very ideal of lightness. It was, in a word, sublime. But it was not perfect, for where consciousness persists, so does weightiness.

Then there were… feet, or rather, footsteps. I can't say I heard it or saw it, I just knew they were there. They were faint and distant, but they were drawing nearer. There were shoes walking on a hard, smooth, marble surface and they were approaching closer and closer. I was anxious to see what it was. Soon the footsteps were so close that it seemed they were already right in front of me, and yet they still kept getting closer and closer. I was feeling uneasy. Pitch black, nothingness, and footsteps that were so close they were actually in my head. And they were in my head, walking around the inside of my skull. Finally the footsteps ceased. There was silence again, but there was also a presence. And then, right before my eyes, there appeared a ghostly image. It was the hooded, faceless, hissing riddler that I had encountered in the forest. It stood before me again, silently. The mysterious figure showed its hands. They were scaly and amphibian, like the hands of a reptile, with sharp black claws. It drew its hands up to its hood and proceeded to reveal its head. It was the head of a snake, but its eyes were different than a snake's. They were strangely familiar. Its forked tongue lashed out intermittently from its mouth. Its eyes glowed with intelligence. I knew why they were familiar: they were the eyes of a peacock.

"Traveler, you now know where you are and what you are."

"But I am nothing now, and I am nowhere," I thought, and my thoughts resonated like sounds around me.

"And you were always nothing, and you were always nowhere."

"But I had form, I had a body, I had a world that was, a world of substance and being. I do not have it anymore."

"And you never had it, traveler. The world of forms is but an illusion, the world of substance is a world of phantoms. The world that is, is the representation of the world that is not. If something exists, it exists precisely because it doesn't exist. There exist not even your ideals, not even Truth, thus do you create ideals, thus do you create Truth. You create them because they do not exist. You create meaning because you perceive meaninglessness. Thus, that which exists is that which you lack and your world is created in the void, born of the nothingness to which it will return, to which you will return – like this."

"There is nothing?"

"There can not be nothing, that would be something, and something cannot be nothing."

"Then what is there?"

"Is? What is there? I think you have the answer to that already."

"Yes. Consciousness. There is consciousness. Thus there is. But there is also this world which is beyond consciousness…"

"The meta-consciousness was within you, and now it is all around you, because you yourself are within you. That which you see outside you is all that lies within you. Your subconscious and your conscience are the stuff of hell… The former creates it, the latter feeds it, and you – the consciousness – suffer it. Only you recognize it, only you experience it, and only you can overcome it."

“I understand that now… but how? I don’t know how to overcome, or where to begin, or what to do…”

“On the contrary, Infernaut. Only you know how.”

“And you? Who are you? Why do I encounter you here?”

“I am a part of you. I too reside in Hell.”

And with those last words, the serpentine sage disappeared again into the farthest shadows of my mind. I knew my answer.

My destiny lay in my own hands. This was what the monstrous hunchback with the peacock eyes had alluded to. This was what the serpent with the peacock eyes had shown me. Were they perhaps one and the same? Were they merely different manifestations of one meaning, one substance, one entity? My realization weighed on my mind and I suddenly felt heavy again all over my body. I felt the weight of form gripping me once again. The bones, the blood, the muscles, the whole heavy, moist, wet, incarnated weight of being began to trap me in its noxious embrace once more, even though they were only the ideal representations of bones and blood and muscles. But they all weighed on my consciousness. It felt like the weight of the world was upon me once more, the whole undignified heaviness of being. It was then that I knew that lightness was what I yearned for, that nothingness was a force of nature that drew existence and being into itself, the overwhelming negative. The negative was the force that held the universe together, and I knew I must find it again, I must return to the inessence, I felt that. The inessence was the void, the nothingness that lies at the heart of all existence and that is the one constant factor in the universe. To lose myself seemed sublime; to lose all weight, all being now seemed so desirable, so natural, so delicious, so... beautiful. Yes, it would be something beautiful.

So I set out again into my hell, and this conscience confronted its netherworld again, like a malicious god contemplating its own hideous creation, to find itself and confront itself in its own creation, to find a way to escape itself, to escape the persistence of existence.

I noticed that forms and substance were starting to fill my mind again, occupying the void again with their nauseating weight. First there was light. Then the geography, the hills, the road, the flora, the trees, the aquasphere and the blue grass all extended back out of me as they had regressed into me. My universe had recreated itself in my mind and I was once more both the protagonist and the author in my own story. I felt as if I were writing as I read and reading as I wrote the same story, at the same time that I was acting in it.

When I opened my eyes again I saw everything as it was: I was sitting in the middle of the road. The cephalodrone was still hovering above me. The aquasphere bubbled and churled with its awesome force and weight. Everything was as I remembered it except one thing: It looked like I was at the end of the road already. For there stood before me, and towering above me, the shining gates of marble. It seemed this was my destination.

21. The Veil of Tears

Look through your tears,
And you will see the threshold again…

I rose to my feet and look up at the gates in awe. They were massive and gleaming, and were of white marble. There were no discernible signs or marks on the gates that could give me an idea as to what this was the entrance to and what lay beyond. As far as I could see, nothing new lay beyond the gates. The landscape remained the same around me and also around the gates; the same blue hills, the same road. I went to look around the gates and found that the road did indeed stretch out as before, and the landscape hadn't changed at all. So really it didn't look like a gateway to anything new. I couldn't see through the gates themselves, however. I wondered if I shouldn't just walk around it, apprehensive as I was and anxious as I was to find Ariadne before entering any new dimension of hell. I didn't want to lose her again. If there was one thing I knew, it was that I didn't want to leave her behind. The thought of it choked me with sadness and I gave way to my emotions. My head dropped and my eyes shut and the tears began streaming down my face. I thought of how far I'd come, of what I'd seen. I thought of all that was hideous and all that was wretched in me, that were becoming clearer and clearer in my journey, that I was rediscovering about myself with every step, on every path, even though the recollection of myself and of my life still remained incomplete. The hideous tortures I had endured weighed once again on my mind, and the thought that I was still enduring them weighed further still. And I couldn't help think that it could have been otherwise, that it could have all been alright. The loneliness, the cowardice, the denial, so much weight for one conscience to bear. And every thought just kept bringing me back to her. It felt childish and silly, the idea - more than an idea, the necessity - that she would be my salvation. The thought that she was the answer to righting a life of regrets and waste seemed ridiculous, absurd. And yet there it was. It was not just an idea, it was not just a thought. It was a feeling, and one cannot reproach oneself for one's feelings. Feelings are oblivious of moral judgments, good or bad, right or wrong. Those mean nothing. To feel something is to need something, and I knew that I needed to find her before anything else.

As I lifted my head to proceed on my way, through the tears that still blurred my eyes I saw a change in the gates. I could see shapes, I could see through it. This brought me back to my senses and I felt excited all of a sudden, but unsure as to what I should do. Perhaps she had also gone through the gates, I thought, perhaps Ariadne was to be found there. I wiped the tears from my eyes and face. However when I looked up again the solid marble gates stood firm and unyielding as before. I was at a total loss. I was sure I saw them open for a brief moment, blurred as my vision was. I rubbed my eyes again but nothing changed. I looked around the gates again and everything was as before, everything seemed normal. I had ignored the annoying cephalodrone hovering around me but in my frustration I looked up at it for a moment, not able to admit even to myself that I sought some form of reassurance or guidance. I swallowed my pride and deigned to speak to it:

"Well?" I said, annoyed with myself for having said something so helpless, so indecisive and so ambiguous.

"Well what?" was of course the irritatingly obvious reply. I certainly didn't want to get into another argument about what.

"Well what do I do now? Never mind, forget I asked..." I rescinded my question which would have just been asking for trouble. And sure enough:

"How could I forget what you asked? I'd first have to remember it to forget it, so your asking me to forget could really only remind me of that which you want me to forget, but having reminded me of it you prevent me from forgetting it. In fact if you'd said nothing at all I'd probably have forgotten it by now anyway."

"Forgotten what?" I asked.

"I forgot," it replied, and then added, "What?"


"Oh good, there's no harm in forgetting nothing. There's nothing to forget really. But then how would you know anyway if you've forgotten it?"

It was useless. This beast was alingualogical! It could write a whole anti-dictionary in which every word was disexplained until it assumed the guise of absurdity, which is really what any word is outside of the logic provided by syntax and the context provided by language. Thinking about this, I repeated the word what over and over again in my head and then out loud until I had no idea what this strange sound had become. It became totally alien to me. After a while I was even mispronouncing it. The "w" turned into a soft "f", the vowel became an "a-e" diphthong, and then a weird "u-e-a" triphthong, and the "t" disappeared altogether.

"WHAT WHAT WHAT WHAT WHAT WHAT WHAT WHAT WHAT WHAET WHAET WEAT WEAT WUEAT WUEA..." I nearly hypnotized myself. I pulled myself together and addressed my flitting companion again:

"So the only word you don't understand is the word 'what'?"

"What?" was the expected reply.

"Exactly," I said. That was my answer. I thought it strange that somebody - or something, albeit some intelligent thing - could exist (and I don't even know if it really exists, or even if I really exist for that matter) without understanding the word what. My instinct was to immediately think of what a limitation it must be to live without this word in one's vocabulary. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt the contrary. In fact, the absence of such a word started to feel like a relief. No names, no origins, no beginnings or ends, no nouns, no “things,” in a word - nothing. There would only be existence, every one would simply be, no one would worry about being something, about being a what. I thought it such an amazing concept. To revolutionize our whole human universe not through armies and political or economic power, or great ideologies, but by simply removing a four-letter word from a dictionary.

I was beginning to lose touch with the word myself. Having thought about it so much and having repeated it over and over in my mind and with my own voice, the word had become an anomaly. I decided to forge my way through the gates. The surface felt cold as I touched it with my palm to try and push open the gates and go through. But it was futile. The gates were solid marble and there was not a single outstanding feature on them, not so much as a blemish. It was white, brilliant, and cold. I was beginning to lose heart, and with every failed attempt my thoughts went back to her. And the more I thought of her the more recklessly I tried to force those gates. I was becoming more and more frustrated, impatient, paranoid. To encounter such a solid obstacle on the path of necessity was torture. I eventually lost all restraint and began hitting the gates with sheer anger and hopelessness. I was now screaming with rage and the tears were welling up again in my eyes. The words of the serpentine riddler came back to me, ‘Beware traveler for you are no longer protected by your ignorance.’ I had lost my fateful resignation, but fate was a comfort in times of misfortune, it was a way of devolving responsibility from myself and enduring the hardships encountered. Indeed, misery can even be a pleasurable experience when we believe its causes to lie totally and completely outside ourselves. The thought caused me even more distress. Images and words floated around my head. My eyesight was blinded by tears, I couldn't even see anymore.

And then it happened. I saw that the walls before me, the great marble gates, had disappeared, vanished, as if into thin air! It was incredible. Though I could see nothing else around the walls of the gates, I could see perfectly clearly through the gates, as if my tears formed the proper lens with which to see through them. The passage, I now understood, would only appear through my tears. I decided to pass the threshold before my tears might cease and I might lose sight of the way through. As I passed into the new realm, I looked up and saw hitherto invisible writing along the top of the gates.

Follow Thy Tears Back To Thy Heart