Footprints in the Sand--the Rest of the Story
We held each other more tightly as we felt an ill wind upon us. It began to blow so hard that we could hardly catch our breath. When we finally did, this ambiance had a definite odor, a bad odor, not unlike the bodily fluid stain that had marked the parking place of our stolen truck. It was like rotting flesh, which I could smell with my nose; it was like rotting souls, which I could smell with my breaking heart.
The malodorous perception became increasingly foul, especially standing out from the sensory deprivation that cradled us. Her face flinched with mine as the stench became painful. My forehead burned from the fetor, and we suddenly experienced nausea. She vomited first with bile and dry heaves, myself following suit. Our eyes watered from the nausea, but a blurred vision only delayed any perspective in this abyss.
Gradually the stench began to be less intense, not from subsidence, but due to desensitization from olfactory overload. The null rush abated, but we still lay floating in the vacuum that both buoyed us and pinned us. But it was not motionless. We were still being jettisoned very rapidly toward the source of the ill wind.
I’d feared that source before, that place furthest removed from goodness and sense, where even God’s presence did not ebb.
I tried to tell her, “I think we’re in Hell,” but the deceptively unnoticeable speed now garbled my syllables into echoes of backward utterances which collided in vacillating falsettos against deeply pitched phonetics.
Almost imperceptibly at first, but then quite noticeably, a flickering in our ocean of emptiness occurred. The flickers then began playing against each other—white versus void versus white and so on. Next came some grays with whites, then colors. We were definitely slowing down.
Our quivering that had signified our moving through the layers, for a great while a tranquil respite courtesy of our great speed, now returned with the deceleration. We held each other more tightly than ever as we progressively shook more wildly. I hoped to never again know what it feels like to shake not only on the outside but also to feel my organs and gut rattle and slam around inside my body, too.
And then someone hit the brakes hard. We tumbled together—and with a sudden onset of pain, I might add. We were together, inseparable, and I could feel why. Although there was the natural incentive to hang on to each other for dear life, I also felt for her deeply, and therefore felt the adhesive of our love. We were anchored together all the way down to our deepest depths. The landing, on the other hand, was an extended and confused struggle to lock onto something stable. The series of bumps and blows ultimately ended in a thud for us collectively, as we lay winded and welded on a flat surface; we were bruised, disheveled, and smelling of vomit.
We held still for a moment, on our backs, looking straight up at a grey sky. Not a cloud was seen. It was hot and steamy. We were both breathing rapidly to re-oxygenate before we could muster the energy to get up. We rolled our heads from side to side to see where we were.
We were on a beach. The surf intermittently would crash, but it smelled strange—chemical-like. There was no seaweed washed up that I could see. That was the way things looked out toward the water. When she rolled in the opposite direction, she gasped.
“What?” I asked. She was speechless.
I finally sat up and looked, slowly because I had strained my abdominal muscles from our landing. Strewn all over the beach as far as I could see were dead bodies in various stages of decomposition. There were skeletons, bloaters, fresh ones, and well, they were all certainly dead. There were men and women and, most horrifying, children. We were up at last, feeling our aches.
“Ohhh, this hurts,” she said, rubbing the small of her back.
“Wait till tomorrow; it’s going to get worse,” I said numbly, still astonished and repulsed by what I was looking at.
“I don’t think anything at all can get any worse,” she said, looking down to avoid further surveying. We began walking, often circuitously to keep as much distance from the bodies as possible.
“No insects,” I said.
“No insects. You’d expect flies and...”
“Stop,” she urged me.
The beach separated the body of water from a high levee which gave us no choice but to walk along it. The levee had walkways leading from the beach. They led to it and over it, and certainly over it to the other side.
“Where are we going?” she asked me.
“I don’t know,” I said dejectedly, “I was kind of walking with you.” The aimless wandering plan worked for both of us. We kept on.
She refused, but I began to look at the bodies. They all seemed to have died traumatically: knives, explosives (probably), jumps (possibly). Guns, of course, were a popular motif. I realized that we could feel like sole survivors here. “No one gets out of this life alive” is the phrase that came to mind as I realized that we may have done just that.
By the time I was beginning to numb to the carnage, I spotted one body in the distance that frightened me. It seemed to have something over it—an unfamiliar mammal of some sort. It was like a small mongrel dog, and it seemed to be feeding on the body like a scavenger. I half-wittedly guided us toward it to get a better look, drawn like my hand on a Ouija board, in some strangely morbid manner. I grew increasingly afraid of a premonition that warned me of what I might see. She slowed her pace in hesitation because of the alien sight, but it was not refusal. As we approached and saw the swollen, dead figure and the sunken, dark eyes I screamed.
What I saw—what made me scream my most fearful sounds—caused me to bury my face into her. She was also rattled, but more by my reaction and panic. She couldn’t see what I saw, because I was jammed into her, trying to jump into her to escape. She knew she couldn’t comfort me in this unmanageable condition, but did her best by allowing her body to swallow me in. The ravenous dog-like creature went rigid with my outburst, hissing and spitting in our direction and showing its teeth. Its matted brown and dark-spotted hair bristled in clumps.
“What! What!” she shouted, the same tone reserved for when one’s shirt is on fire. She pried me away so she could see for herself, but I resisted her effort.
“No, don’t! Don’t look!” I shouted at her, but she succeeded nevertheless. Now knowing what I had seen, she slammed me back into her, her hold firm.
It was me! I swear it! A dead me! All swollen and dead and half rotten and half eaten and—Oh my God! I could feel the pain of the decay when I looked at it, a mind-boggle of sudden suicidal depression.
No, this was worse. This was physical. This was the excruciation of rotting and being fed upon.
“Let me go,” I told her, “I’m going to look.”
“Yes. It hurts so bad. I’ve got to overcome it. My mind has got to overcome it.”
I popped loose. Ignoring the threatening mammal, I began to stare down my own death and saw the gun in the dead hand, the old bullet hole in the head. This me had succeeded where, at my lowest point of my life, I had had the good fortune to click a hammer on an empty chamber.
But my strength was not enough. The pain still inundated me. And what was worse, I now began thinking more rationally, figuring that if Fido from Hell liked the rotting me, he’d certainly love me fresh. Suddenly she shrieked, spying her own counterpart. Apparently our four-legged friend had visited her, too. She collapsed in agony. I myself was such a whimpering mess that I wasn’t much support. I turned and saw the successful suicide that was the her that she saw, a tableaux of what might have been had she not been thwarted at the lowest point of her own life.
I pulled her along with me to distance ourselves from the pain. As we gained more ground, we became better able to compose ourselves. The decomposing, on the other hand, went on in those others around us who were not as bothersome as the two in particular we had just seen.
All of these corpses had been suicides, I concluded. She agreed. We continued to walk along an expanse in the most hopeless, senseless, and sorrowful place in the universe. All of these corpses had been those who had given up everything, which of course includes the soul. They had left themselves hollow, withering on many different levels, empty hulls like the carcass-ashes of the insects on a window sill of a third-rate burger joint.
This was it, the last stop, a most terrible and final layer—this layer where the carnage of the hopeless lay self-victimized in their submissions, in their ultimate self-indulgence.
I spotted a folded piece of paper sticking out of my soiled, damp shoe. I reached down and retrieved it, opened it. It had my name on it, with the word, "Apprais-it," typed under it.
"What's that?" she asked.
"I don't know. An appraisal? From where?"
"I don't think you should read it," she cautioned.
"Oh, right." As if. I unfolded the rest of it and read it to myself. She just turned away. Knowing who I was here--on this "apprais-it," or whatever, I felt, would help me know where I was. It was horrible grammar and diction, replete with misspellings. But this wasn't the crayon blotches of some ignoramus. It was neatly typed and followed a template. It was official. I didn't know where, but somewhere.
The pachent, it read, ish a 252-month-old white vagiphile, ranked in for the looking at his. The pros got none any reason to therap his, cause peeps who’d give up on peepselves arnt woth any sweat or trubble.
Impression: Him feels of worthless deserved.
Forced Forecast: Let this one go off and wrap it up as planned by hisself. OK with pros.
I refolded the report carefully, then I crumpled it up angrily: the hopeless giving up on the hopeless; unreasonable people have no reason to people unreasonable worlds.
Just the fact that there was ink on paper meant technology. Over that levee must be the viable, the living of this place. Here on the beach must be the natural resolution to life over that high, green, continuous hill.
I had no desire to go over that hill. If we were at some end-point, I could only imagine how terrible it would be to be among the living human beings there.
I was convinced that this layer was as close to Godlessness as one could get. I was convinced this was Hell. What endeavor would a civilization be involved in for the GNP of Hell? No thanks, I’d take my chances among the carnage that was our beach party.
Except of course that food and water can be a strong incentive to venture. After all day we had survived fairly comfortably. Oh, I was a little hungry, and she was a little thirsty. Terrified, we knew the next day of hunger and thirst would bring us closer to the levee for passage over.
The small forager with the eerie blood-dripping canine fangs was the only one of its kind seen. As night fell, having put some distance between us and it, we could hear its strange call, like a child’s croupy cough. Suddenly we heard hundreds of calls from apparently innumerable animals. The darkness gave us insecurity; the surprisingly large number of them we heard gave us the creeps.
This darkness was the antithesis of the white panorama that had brought us here. It became totally black. Memories of psychiatric observation came creeping back to me. As we huddled together in the inky night, our eyes finally adjusted to the faint phosphorescent glow of the decaying bodies, apparently the work of some bioluminescent organisms. There was no moon and there were no stars. The only light that competed with the eerie lantern effect of the decay was the rim of sickly glow from over the levee that underscored the sirens, screams, and other troubled sounds of the night which described the way of life there.
The amalgamation of the croup-calls, the macabre ghost-like visions of the bodies, and the sounds over the levee unnerved us, to say the least. She held me firmly, abruptly tightening her arms around me in reaction to the realities ganging up on her.
“There can’t be any place worse than this,” she sighed.
“Yes, there could,” I said, knowing full well we could be wrong in thinking this is the worst—that it might be only the second-worst, or third-worst, or fifty-seventh worst.
“But if it is the worst...” she said.
“You’re still with me,” I offered. “It’s not the worst yet.” And with that she smiled, which this place didn't deserve.
"But if it is the worst...” she once again stated, undeterred.
“If it is the worst,” I continued for her, “then I guess we'd have nowhere else to go but better."
“Exactly,” she said. And so she rested her case with an expression that declared she was ready. “How else would we go?”
“No thanks,” I said, ending the discussion.
I couldn’t see her clearly in the murk, but I could feel her sulk by the slump I felt against me as we sat together, against each other. A particularly loud croup-bark sounded. She started.
“Oh, that was close.”
“I know,” I said, squinching myself even closer to her. We supported each other for the longest time until we began nodding as one. As we dozed, our fatigue made us forgetful of even the carnivore’s threat. Half asleep, I numbly noticed again the soft light emanating from over the levee—a city’s glow, giving notice of whatever reprobate cloisters carried on over there. An unprecedented place. How cheap must life be over there, I thought—over that levee. How senseless, how self-servingly cruel. And how easy must it be for someone over there to end up over here on carcass beach. A civilization of cavemen. I want it—I take it. I want you—I rape you. The amphibian part of brains being heard first and loud.
And then I slept hard all night until the mist-diffracted sunlight of morning raised me back up from the dead. The rest of the bodies would have needed Jesus to do that.
Jesus. What a joke that was!
Abby was hard to wake up. I shook her lightly, but she wouldn’t respond. She needed sustenance. I myself felt like I was still running well. She, however, was showing a definite decline, possibly due to illness or infection. I felt her head, and even in this heat she felt unusually warm. She was feverish and dehydrated. I had to get her some food or water. I didn’t fancy the thought of her glowing in the dark.
“You stay put,” I said, when she finally awoke. “I’ll go look for something to eat.” She looked at me like I was crazy. She jumped up to join me with sudden involvement, which was surprising to see after such a deep sleep. Then she looked confused until she really woke up. When her brain finally caught up she addressed my intentions.
“We go together. Really!”
I agreed readily, admitting to her that my going off alone was a stupid idea. I looked around at our morning mood—the dead: one half of the complete food chain on this beach.
We walked together for a couple of hours, zigzagging our way around the stiffs and the occasional four-legged vultures who would territorially ward us off convincingly. After a long distance, Abby stopped to rest, sitting in a collapsed kneel.
“Baby, this is tough.”
“I know, but we’ll find something. Beaches are desirable real estate, even here—I know it. God, I must sound so stupid saying something like that. But I’m hoping we can connect up with only an excursion of people from over the levee and not have to enter the whole way of life over there.”
“No, I mean it’s tough just being here.”
“Look, we’ll rest and it’ll get easier,” I said, trying to reassure her.
“No,” she said again, this time with alarming emphasis. “It’s tough just being, just existing, and right here.”
Despair had sparked in our team, and it might just spread like wildfire. I sat down next to her and ran the whole thing by in my head. I wondered just how much better off we were than our fellow sunbathers around us. And why weren’t we freaking out over our itinerary that had culminated in this cake walk of death. Just what were we accomplishing? What kind of survival was this? I thought about what she had said, about going anywhere would be better than staying here. Sure, that could be wrong, but I didn’t expect a Burger King here anytime soon, either.
“Let’s do it,” I said to her with a tone as competitively despairing as hers.
“Do what?” she asked. “Go over the levee?”
“I said it could always be worse,” I said. “But this is getting worse. We’re walking along a beach with no food or potable water; there are thousands of dead people—”
“O.K.,” she blurted.
“Sorry,” I said as I hugged her and she loved me right back. And in that embrace we closed our eyes and did what felt so obvious, exerting ourselves in our love. Love? Or was it a co-dependency of despair that had evolved into the vector forces of the ill wind that had brought us here.
We knew something was happening--we had gone someplace else, but only to meet resistance from further progress--a barrier of some sort, an ending.
Before I even opened my eyes, I realized this wasn't better. I knew, then, that we went from the second worst place there ever was to the worst place there ever was. We could tell by the even worse smell, even though I would have never thought that possible. We could tell by the fears that did not emanate from within, but which were bestowed upon us, somehow, from emanations that advertised for vampires. Our eyes were still closed tightly as were our arms around each other. We both had felt the cold resistance that had announced our arrival at the nadir of existence, and we both knew the score. Further efforts failed to bounce us back the other way, and this broke our hearts.
We just listened.
We heard the chemical surf. We heard and smelled the ill wind. And when we opened our eyes, we saw ourselves totally alone on a beach which a moment ago had held more dead people than the beach along the Styx. Ironically, this made it lonely. The sky was a sickly yellow, a smoggy yellow, a purulent straw-color. Apparent chemicals in the air flashed with a ghastly aurora as if impotent enzymes were attempting catalysis toward a primordial perverted life, but of course no life would ever be comfortable here. The resistance that prevented us from going any farther, that cold barrier, spilled over: it was very icy here, the ill wind berating us with an added chill factor. This was strikingly different from just the very last layer, where it was hot. We rustled ourselves together, still crouched, to generate warmth.
The levee was replaced by hills which had no roads inviting us over to the other side. For all we felt, those hills were the barbed wire on the edge of the universe.
“I need to ask,” I finally said cautiously, as if the ill wind were eavesdropping, violating my most personal concerns.
“Yes?” she responded, sharing my hopeless monotone.
“What?” she asked, prodding.
“How many times did you almost commit suicide?”
“Just once,” she answered after a moment with a laugh of regret (regret of attempting or of not succeeding?).
“Oh,” I said.
“How about you?” she asked me.
“Only once,” I answered sadly.
“Really?” she said, surprised.
“I think this dead man’s beach is reserved just for us,” I said, assessing the private accommodations.
“I think,” she said slowly, with an intense gaze right into my eyes, “that committing suicide in Hell is not a sin.”
I considered that philosophical venture. Was wanting to suicidally leave a place without God a sin against God? Would God even care? Would He even know? Did He even miss us here?
We sat quietly and mulled dark thoughts, hopeless thoughts, and Godless thoughts, as if thinking hard enough could kill us. We snuggled more firmly together. The daytime sky, an already menacingly dark color, grew darker yet, its yellow having worn away unnoticed. I closed my eyes, because I felt death near.
She began before I did. With resolve, I finally made the same decision: I invited death so that I could ambush it with my hopelessness, my Godlessness, my life. And then I heard the malevolent sky opened up, rattling my stability even further. It was just like in those movies about Christ’s crucifixion where the lightning and thunder and inclement weather roll in for deific effect—weather so bad that even a son of God looks pretty scared.
I strove to contribute to our embrace, but seemed to be unsuccessful in holding her any more tightly. In fact, the ferociousness of our enfolding seemed to be slipping away, like something so valuable that oozes from between one’s fingers the tighter the fist. And I could feel the searching terror in her grasping movements that sensed the same failings. Suddenly, she had stopped holding me altogether. I opened my eyes to find her striving for me with her own eyes. She was horrified as she realized that she could not make physical contact with me. We grabbed at each other but missed, even though it was obvious that we couldn’t miss. Our hands passed through each other with icy transections. Then our arms rushed through each other repeatedly—hysterically—our shock growing wildly like a runaway fire. We threw ourselves at each other, lunging in desperation to undo whatever it was that we had done in thinking hard enough. We were shrieking tearfully at each other—for each other—the effect all the more macabre because we could no longer hear one another except in distant echoes, our behavior becoming all the more intense as our efforts proved fruitless. I tried to scream, but I was in that nightmare where you can’t scream. As these torturous moments rushed by, she became fainter and fainter until, laboring to see her at all, I was offered her final goodbye—the fretful, regretful pallor on her face. I’m sure I offered a similar farewell as I knew I was being ripped off, even in death, by not being allowed to go with her. I closed my eyes tightly as if I could still stop this terrible scenario.
I opened them again and she was gone! Had she already succeeded in her death ahead of me? Did she go to her own beach?
I had truly nothing now. Now I was in the worst place. With my love gone, I was missing a bit of my true existence. And of course that was enough of a breach to make whole existence impossible. And wasn’t that the whole purpose of just being? Forget the gonads—don’t you love with your soul? Isn’t that why a broken heart hurts so badly, because it’s actually a broken soul? Permanent damage to an immortal being? And if a piece of my soul was gone, what was the rest for? For God? Just where in the hell was He, anyway?
For what it was worth, this probably would have been a fitting end to my worthless, miserable story.
By now any light of the sky was blotted out to a twilight-like dim glow by a wind-swept layer of debris, soot, and vile pollution overhead, fueled by the incessant howl of the even louder, cold ill wind, its rancidness thickening. The humidity was dense, and I could almost sense each misty droplet hanging in the air with a sticky stench clinging to it. It was as a fog that was insidiously hiding an indescribable threat. Visibility had now been reduced to a few yards. I began walking along the beach, now so alone without her. Without even my shadow. Just me and the frigid ill wind, through which I could hear a most dreadful dirge.
Although very strange, very haunting, I felt it to be very necessary for some inexplicable reason. I was finally able to perceive a melody, although “melody” was too kind a word for it. “Discord” seemed more appropriate, since this designated what I heard: there was dissonant harshness of blended clashing sounds, defining the lack of harmonious unity that was my life. It sent shivers down my spine, for it now dawned on me that this music was meant for me. They’re playing my song was a thought that came to mind, and I found this harrowing. If any score were to represent me as I was at this point, this certainly was the piece. I heard a cancerous counterpoint that insidiously encircled the melody that would soon eviscerate it.
The gales above were still pushing by, and the foul odor burned its way up into my nose and into my forebrain. I reflexly clasped my arms repeatedly at my side to keep warm. I thought that nothing could be worse than the sound of the ill wind whirling over and around me, but the sound of “my song” did succeed in adding a final oppression. So I put my fingers in my ears, but it wasn't coming from outside, it was coming from inside. Giving up on stopping the music, I unplugged my ears and slowly arose against the push of the gusts. As I did I came face to face with it.
It was a most terrible monster, but this was no reflection in a medicine chest mirror, no cheap shot at my sensibilities. This was quite real. It was massive—six or seven hundred pounds of humanoid repulsion.
Visibility was terrible, although we were but an inch away from each other, looking eye-to-eye. I screamed sincerely my most excellent scream at it. It snarled at me in return.
He wore only a narrow black bathing suit, most of it hidden by rolls of flesh. The scene was all the more bizarre because of his summer beachwear in the iciness. His face was distorted not only by ugliness, but also from the exaggerated obesity. In spite of this, I could tell intuitively that it was me, the worst, most deteriorated version of me that could be.
This is what I was like without my soul!
He scrounged and in fact dug up from the pit of his throat a purulent load of phlegm that he blew at my face at point blank range. It had an aftertaste of nicotine and old alcoholic vomit. “You think you can just shit me out,” he smoldered, followed by the afterwave of his breath. “I hate you to death,” he slithered at me with my own voice, but in a graveled growl that made his message redundant. And with this, he clamped his big fleshy hand behind my head, slamming it into his face.
What came next was the kiss of death.
He allowed me to rear back, but it was only so he could go for my throat. Why? I didn’t know. In some way, wasn’t this self-injury? Such thoughts could barely surface, because his raging fists and the blur of the powerful kicking from his very large legs were all that I could mind at the moment. Mass, momentum, force—all of these parameters of physics figured into the formidable attack that a seven hundred pound man can present. I fought off his attack using my forearms with propeller-like inefficiency, suffering the bruising from his torrential strikes. My rebuttals were like so much straw at cement. He, on the other hand, was frequently successful in making sufficient contact to start blood flowing from somewhere on my face.
I just couldn’t fight something this big. He could vanquish me by just sitting on me, flattening a major part of my body as he did.
But why was I fighting back or even defending myself? The thoughts attempted to surface again. Hadn’t I wanted to die? Yes, I had decided, but not at the hands of a murdering brute. If I were to die, I’d do it myself! And then I once again regarded the face of my attacker, this visage that was a me. This is what actually was happening! I was, in a way, doing it myself, by his hands, by the hands of a me, a reminder of the essence of suicide.
So I succumbed to his onslaught, trying to feel fulfilled in my masochism, but as he continued to pummel me, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t find myself so fulfilled. Even when he knocked the wind out of me by his thrust elbow to just below the center of my rib cage; even when he jammed his knuckles into my bloodied eyes; even when he rapped the windpipe in my throat with something else of his. And with all of this, this bastard still could not give me what I needed!
Well if I were going to do myself in, it would have to be by my own execution—on my side of the mirror, because the worst version of me to ever live was failing. What the hell made him qualified to deliver me? This was an insult to the true me, to the total me. No, this execution must be carried out by my own volition, by my true volition—by my total volition. This massive carcass was no more important than the foodstuff that was available for scavengers a beach ago.
So I fought back. I fought for my life, for I had my own plans for it. I’d be damned if this piece of shit that was me was going to be the one to kill me for me!
I fought back, but so did he. So beaten was I to begin with that he had the decided advantage. So many hundreds of pounds less than him, I proved no real threat, even with the ferociousness of my change of intention.
So I fought back, but I was losing. As noble as my plans were, now that I had seen the dark light, perhaps it was already too late to come out of this alive enough to consider death.
I went down at his insistence—an excellent tripping maneuver combined with a right hook to my head, the whole technique potentiated by the torque only his size could muster. I landed flat on my back, winded. I watched fuzzily through the cold mist at my attacker as he lifted his huge booted foot. I knew his intention was to forcibly pound it into my skull and end his problem so that once again he’d be the fairest me of all on all my beach. My song continued to harmonize with the sound of the ill wind. I thought I’d say a prayer to God, but couldn’t see the purpose.
Just as his downward thrust was to begin, an unlikely champion leapt from nowhere and with its claws cut a swath across his face, instantly rendering him helpless. The animal and his huge victim landed on the ground next to me at the same time, and I felt the ground shake when they did. Suddenly, there was no sound from the wind, no dirge, no swansong. All was silent except the wind. But although I now didn’t have to actually “face the music” from it, I did end up face to face with my combatant.
His gargantuan physique finally presented as disadvantage, as he was puffing for his own breath. And he also was gasping fruitlessly to overcome the blow, a brisk red fountain coming from his face close enough to shower mine. And once again I smelled the breath that could itself kill. It’s only offensive competition was the ill wind, which was now also the only noise. The carnivore, too, was silent in contrast to the wind, and he now was squatting seemingly in expectation of my next move—sitting courteously for my plan. He suddenly broke his silence by celebrating his victory with a bark that was like a child’s croupy cough. I say he because he also celebrated his joy of violence with a very noticeable erection. The macabre scene was terrifying; it was paralyzing. I did nothing, panicking in uncertainty. He barked again, almost as if to prod me into some type of action. I still did nothing, lying on the beach, the sand burning my wounds. Ultimately, this frightening little beast huffed in exasperation and arose, all the while fixed on my gaze. He now was standing on all fours. I lay petrified that he may now have something planned for me! My worst fears were realized when he slowly walked around both sets of our legs, circumnavigating us as a gruesome, bloodied pair, to come closer to me.
Now he and I were face to face. He growled, showing his teeth, the long whiskers on his snout bristling, his fangs glistening with the mix of saliva and blood. I lay there quietly. I didn’t hope he wouldn’t rip my face off; I didn’t wish he’d run off; I didn’t even think. I wanted no brain activity at all, lest he might sense it as loudly as he’d hear the scream of a dying suicide.
But he didn’t rip my face off. Once again, the respectful calm of expectation mollified the distortions of fury in his features. I felt this hungry creature was offering me options. I tossed my head to look at my huge self-appointed fiend. Of the options I could consider, the option I liked best was to do this big, fat guy in.
The only reason I stood up before he did was because I could. My assailant still lay helpless with his blow, weakened by the blood loss that had by now made all of the beach under him red with surrender. I studied him but was repulsed by the introspection that resulted. I stepped over him and suddenly his corpulent arm lurched upward, his hand pouncing on my groin. His fist clenched and I cried out. I stood over him stopped dead in my tracks by his persuasion. My knees began to buckle. He seemed to summon all of his strength to this one action, hurting me badly as he did.
Forget the gonads, don’t you love with your soul? Here was the soulless at my gonads. He squeezed more and more tightly, which provided the solid contact which further drove my hate for him or any other me for that matter. Although my stride had been interrupted, I overcame my agony and raised my fisted hands over him. I was even able to raised both arms, as no other part of his body offered me any resistance: he was placing all of his bets on that one crippling grip of his.
But now it was my turn. And if I had been suicidal with him before, I was certainly homicidal with him now. After all, this wasn’t murder—it was self-improvement!
My raised arms mirrored his own threatening position before he had been struck by the creature. As I let my fists fly, suddenly there burst on once again my theme song.
I let them fly hard. My passion was determined to do this in one strike. Suicide? Murder? Just what was the difference?
And as the last stinking breaths of his smitten life waned in frequency, the music in the wind also faded away. I collapsed onto my knees. My four-legged partner, my witness, now barked one last time in applause. He then moved on, dragging the kill off with him as he did; dragging away all of the worst of my attributes as he did. For so small an animal, he was very powerful, almost magically powerful. Or it may have been that the massive bulk of the corpse was misleading—that soulless spoils really didn’t add up to much after all.
I strained all of my muscles as I stood again. I still had that horrible burning abdominal pain that radiates up from traumatized testicles. My knees were shaking and I was weak, but I stood erect. I watched the dead being carried away for quite some time before I bothered to pay attention to what I felt at my right leg. I became aware of it when I finally felt it was cold and it was moving. When I did look down I froze in terror. It wasn’t any particular danger at my calf, just a bizarre sight. There, humping at me like a horny dog was a horned salamander-type thing. It worked at me feverishly, and this unnerved me, for I wondered if this is what I looked like to the rest of nature: just another reptile, humping where I could for pleasure. I felt something wet dripping on me, becoming sticky as the creature continued rubbing against me. Appalled, I suddenly kicked it away. It went tumbling for several feet and then landed, motionless. I lifted my sight to once again see in the distance my dead, fat assassin, now a small dot, receding, courtesy of the scavenger.
Now totally alone, the ill wind my only companion, I searched for any feelings of any other presence in this, my world. I sought any feelings for her, for her presence, but felt none. And then I tried for feelings of one last possible presence. I thought I’d now say a prayer for God, but then as I had felt no such presence to receive any of my pleadings before, I felt no such presence now.
And that’s when, totally alone, naked of all worth or values, I heard that most terrible noise:
It was a noise against which the ill wind didn’t stand a chance. It was a noise whose power not only blew the ill wind back, but overwhelmed it. And this most terrible noise was a voice of rage, a howling of rejection. It was a railing against hopelessness. Deafening, it was a reaction to the absence of love, a reaction to the worst thing that could ever possibly happen—the loss of One’s child.
This most terrible noise, all-consuming even from the unfathomable distance it had traveled, was the sound heard when one witnesses how loudly God Himself can scream.
I lay on my beach, decimated, drawn, and quartered by the divine force from another realm. I lay so very alone. Without any world, without my lover, without God.
It was the emptiest place I’ve ever been to that was filled with bad things, and the bad things were all inside my head.
The hollow feeling in me was, I realized, the source of the ill wind, now quiet—like halitosis, not noticeable as one’s own. I was nothing, a collection of atoms which was battered about by the random forces of physics. My thoughts and dreams were unimportant misfirings of chemicals and millivolts. I was totally worthless.
I was soulless, and I now knew how that felt: like the pain of the paradox of being cognizant of your own oblivion; like the pain of watching yourself rot or be fed upon. I was light as a feather, that reassuring feeling of being firmly grounded to something lost and now missed. There was nothing of substance to me, and any animal that feeds on the soulless would have no trouble dragging me away, either, because I’d seen it done already.
And if losing my soul felt like this, then this is the only Hell I would ever need.
From the sandy ground of my private beach now arose a harshness of red light, as claustrophobic as any enveloping darkness. I felt it as the hateful force of a soulless world. It flashed painfully in my vision even with my eyelids shut. Its sanguine glare was so unendurable and unmerciful that it took well over an hour before I could bear to open my eyes to it. It forced me to squint, partly due to reflex, partly to protect myself from its radiant, crimson virulence. Springing from the multifaceted blood-red sand, it was accompanied by the odor which was that of vast quantities of blood—that putrid, sickeningly sweet smell that is associated with the very acts that result in vast quantities of blood, like senseless slaughters, historic holocausts, and justifiable homicides. Like the hemorrhage of children caught in the crossfire of adult senselessness, soullessness, and Godlessness. It was the saddest stuff I’ve ever seen or smelled. It was the red carpet of carrion rolled out just for me.
The morbid brightness that continued to hurt my eyes and my feelings was reflected by the microscopic edges of each bloody grain—by each raw, inflamed granulation; and in this way it was amplified in its sickly glow, not unlike what had been seen from the rotting wounds of bodies from the beach before. (Except that if those bodies had had such a powerful candlepower in their decomposition, there would have been brilliant pillars of light firing off forever into space, jousting beacons of horror to ward off the universe from the likes of Auschwitz, My Lai, the Khmer Rouge, Vlad the Impaler, the Inquisition, or the nice boy down the block who just one night blew his whole sleeping family away before turning the gun on himself.)
I finally got up, initially having trouble with my balance because the sandy ground was soggy. The force of my weight oozed the foam of blood from my compressed footprints around my shoes. I walked squeaking in the anguish I had distanced myself from in the past. My back and rear were wet with this foam from the period of time that I had spent on my back due to my recent annihilation. As I walked, this foam gurgled, making a sound as if from a great gaping blood vessel, pleading with me. But of course, being soulless, I didn’t care. The color of the sand struck me as being a red-shift, a Doppler effect that so amply demonstrates that misery never catches up with the faster self-indulgent among us.
In the cruel blinding light I could just make out the shadows of fast moving things swishing past me, over and over. I was not frightened, because I didn’t care. They were menacing and definitely sinister, but I still didn’t care. At one point, one of them brushed past me, leaving me with an icy feeling, but this feeling couldn’t spook me beyond my uncaring barrier. And whatever these things were, I knew that when the next one did more than just brush me that I would really get into it with the thing. It was a senseless hostility that would make me want to tear apart anything that had the gall to endanger me—that same confused and maldirected rage that had me finish off my fat man, that same homicidal/suicidal momentum that wanted quick work done of anything that had the audacity to do only what I deserved to do to myself. But it was, after all, a casual brush. And I took some pleasure in hoping that my depravity seemed as dangerous to my marauders as they were to me.
I found that the farther I walked from the sound of the chemically colored surf, the less frequently these shadows buzzed me. I looked into the glare with the greatest effort to see what lay in the direction that promised me some relief from the aggravation of those aggressive silhouettes, and I could barely make out hills. The closer I walked toward them, the less the stark radiance hurt my eyes, as the glare was gradually replaced by a low-hanging cloud, a thick fog. The temperature rose the farther I walked, now with only the dense opaque humidity surrounding me. I labored to look harder and, straining, I could finally see through the white of the fog. I saw that the hills were forbidding in their austerity, rocky and graveled and with no vegetation. Still totally hollow and worthless, I continued to walk toward them. What did they separate me from in this place? From other hollow, worthless beings? Was there a head hollow, worthless being in charge of all the other hallow, worthless beings over there?
And those misfirings which were my thoughts drew my collection of atoms toward these hills. It was a long, hard walk and climb through the sand, hindered by the fog, but of course I didn’t care. I was hungry, too, but I didn’t care. It really made no difference to me. I didn’t care about myself at all as I walked, which I enjoyed as my greatest selfishness. I don’t know if I cared about anything, actually. I didn’t even care if I were to proudly suffer all eternity here, or until I reached the hills, whichever came first.
Gradually, I was better able to see; I could just make out some scrawling in the sand, words scratched into the red granules as if by a stick. It read, “I Love U.”
I didn’t care. Pausing at the affection in the red sand, I may have felt the slightest waver of my nihilism. But no, I didn’t really care about anything.
Except her—yes, I unexpectedly found myself choosing to care about her, to put myself second, as I once again began making progress toward those hills. I found, as I continued even farther, that I now chose to care enough to hope she was O.K. That everyone would be O.K. I walked more, caring more, putting myself third, fourth, and so on. The closer I got to the top of the hills, the more I found I cared. It was the strangest thing: it was as if the hills were not some barrier but instead were a threshold. I ultimately cared enough to fear what was beyond the threshold, making me hesitate.
But I came to care about myself as I discovered a pass through the hills where I knew I could catch a glimpse of what lay beyond. I knew that at this pinnacle I would be able to see over the cloud I was in to the area below. I was frightened, but as I walked I was becoming caring enough to deal with whatever I would find there. I was going to be me and not some damned fool seeking permanent solutions to temporary problems. I cared about my destiny, so I knew I had to endure onward. I pushed myself through the pass, like threading a needle. With a camel.
And I cared about God, so I cared enough, and she would find me again.