fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)

I am aware of what death does or should do to a body. In one manual I read, half buried in the Dust, sometime after a body falls slack, losing heartbeat and brain function, rigor mortis sets in. The manual featured pictures of cadavers in varying stages of death, before and after rigor mortis. It described the breakdown of muscles through enzymes, the slow loss of body temperature before an increase during decomposition, the development of bluish hues beneath skin depending upon how a body is arranged after death, and even the practical usage of rigor mortis in the preparation of meat.

We no longer have words for much of this. We no longer discuss enzymes. We no longer discuss rigor mortis. In fact, if we even saw a body with bluish skin, walking or no, we would assume it was either painted or being used as a model for a demonstration.

In the fifty years since the world ended, we have lost all grasp of the mechanics of death. What recollections we possessed as different cultures were pitched into the sea when the land reformed, making up our unnamed nation that we live in today. This nation is fraught with oddities--vast jungles that change shape in our sleep, icy tundra that no true light will touch due to a sun that never moves,  and creatures that haunt our dreams.  Our cities tremble with madness, each city bearing a different blight: Coburntown scorns knowledge, and Vaust rejects creation, for example. We are reminded that life is impermanent and fickle. At any moment, the world could end again and forever.

Death ended.

Now, rather than becoming gradually rigid or slowly decaying, bodies stand up and return to work. Why do they do that? Men die, but it doesn't bother them for very long. We grow old to a point, and then some kind of clock stops ticking inside--we become semi-permanent.

I met a lighthouse keeper in the early years of the new world, before I also stopped aging. I met him again, tangled in brine in the shallows of his own beach. His body was turning blue. I guessed it might have been a combination of hypothermia and asphyxiation. Now, I'm not so sure.

I dragged him into his house. I didn’t see his wife around. I did see a strange note on his kitchen table. He seemed conscious, so I boiled water for him and made soup with what ingredients I could scrounge together. I wrapped him in blankets and coats, talking to him to see if I could solicit any kind of reaction at all. I sat with him for hours,  following the path of his vision to a slight twist in the right kitchen table leg nearest to him. He stared at it incessantly, never blinking. From time to time, I would lay a hand on his algae and dirt covered skin; he was cold and clammy, sweating even as I tried to warm him up, never gaining in temperature. I knew he had died, for whatever functional purpose such a designation might carry.

I knew I had to watch him.

Just as I began to grow tired from my watch, his eyes twitched and flickered, jolting to the letter on the table. The envelope had a fishy aroma--a fileting knife sat next to it. He opened this envelope recently, I thought briefly, interrupted when the lighthouse keeper stood up and began to walk out.

Find me in the Silent City, the letter read. It was not the first time I had heard of that place, but I had always assumed it was simply another name for one of the eight cities and towns. I also knew that the Silent City was somehow linked to death; the wordlessly trudging fisherman would lead me there, I guessed, and I began to follow him.

Animals and plants die. People do not. Some factor of the new world inhibits human death. I suspect that the presence of the soul requires death as a device. If true death is denied, then the soul gradually corrupts the physical body, leading people to become different. Inevitably, people who die more than once become increasingly twisted, estranging themselves from family in pursuit of something more final. I told myself that they would never find it.

That day, following a drowned fisherman on the roads running east of Coburntown and around Mount Aramis, I wondered if true death would find me.

There is a hole. The hole lies, I would guess, roughly ten miles north and east of Coburntown. It is deep. It is deep enough that stones make no echo when tossed inside. The hole sits at the mouth of a town that I have never seen and dared not approach. Steel structures gleam underneath a coating of rust, illuminated by the thin glare of sunlight cracking through the surrounding mountains. It is hard to look at them, hard to know if there are predators between those structures.

As for the fisherman: he kept walking until he fell into that hole. I watched the flecks of seaweed rush away from his body as he plummeted, the wind whipping them away, rippling the cloth of his shirt and the hair on his face. I watched him disappear into the darkness.

As I watched, they watched. In the distant city, hundreds of dark eyes looked upon me. I could feel their hostility and their hunger. I walked away, knowing nothing more about the nature of death.

Did the void call out to me, then? Would I need to be dead in order to hear it properly? I hope to know some day. There are few questions more worth answering in this new, dangerous world.


Jan. 15th, 2015 06:01 pm
fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)
“Ganesha has gone mad,” I whispered to the empty darkness of the prison corridor, scraping my fingernails across the rust of the iron bars.

“Oh?” the voice across the corridor rumbled in a deep, sleepy tone, as if the old man had been drunk his entire life.

“You said that Ganesha is looking after us, Airawat.”

“He is,” Airawat replied, leaning into his own iron bars so that I could just barely see his white whiskers curling around the metal. The guards were sleeping and the moonlight splintered through the window of my own cell.

“Well, maybe the Lord of Obstacles has a personal grudge against me. Whatever I do, I always seem to wind up locked in here,” I whimpered.

“Tomorrow morning, I will be executed for my own crimes,” the old man said, putting my own complaint to rest. “Child, death was the only absolute obstacle. Even so, I get to choose how I look when I die…”

“What a privilege!” I snapped.

A deep silence settled in our cells. I was lonely, cold, and worried that the only person I could talk to would vanish in my sleep.

“Old man, what did you do? Why are you here?”

He leaned into the gap between the bars, enough to see the golden hue of his eyes—an infinite gaze that reached through the metal and froze me solid.

“I committed many sins. Listen carefully.”


My first sin was fear.

I fell in love with my fiancé almost immediately after having met her. The daughter of a restaurant owner, she had beautiful hands even though she always had them in hot dishwater. I was a floundering student with not one rupee to my name. I was often temperamental, like you, because I believed someone was placing insurmountable obstacles in my path. In reality, I was a fool.

I waited two hours after her restaurant was closed just to hear a word from her, every night. The sound of her voice on the telephone was so sweet that I thought I would cry. When she grew tired of talking after working, night after night, I would linger outside the back window of the restaurant, scribbling letters into the humidity fogged glass with my finger tip. “I love you,” I would mouth through the haze. When she asked me to stay away from her workplace, I made contact with one of her coworkers, paid through what little money I possessed, just to get a sense of how her day was going, whether she spoke of me, and her plans for our future. I realize now that I spent my early life yearning for a connection—having a link meant that it could easily slip through my fingers. I certainly made my fingers slippery enough with all that skulking!

I was shocked when she ran away mere days before our wedding. My contact had lied to me! When I tried to confront him, I found that he was gone too. I mustered my courage to speak to her father about it, but he gave her shelter. Certainly the gods put him there to be a wall in my path. When he refused to offer any information about my missing love, I fell to pieces.

Jealousy was my second sin.

After searching for months for my long lost fiancé, I fell into bad habits. Drinking, smoking, and visiting the tourist clubs occupied my life. I studied and worked for money, but those places consumed me. I was transfixed by the unusual people and the shockingly different music. Something about the pulsating, electronic rhythms dislodged the hurt in my heart.

Until I met Fiona, at least.  Fiona was so light skinned that looking at her in the sunlight was nearly blinding. Since I only ever saw her in dark alleyways and bars, we bonded immediately. Her ribs, which just barely emerged from some of the tops that she would wear, were fascinating to me: the way she moved in the darkness. I thought I had learned to be less attached to a woman, but the fear simply grew into something more.

We started living together. I didn’t tell my parents about it because they would never have approved of that lifestyle, especially not with a foreigner. When I began to call it love, I found her on the dance floor once again, with another man’s hands wrapped around her ribs.

Did she intend to hurt me? I don’t know, but I followed that man home. Fiona learned later of his injuries, but she was already gone by then. I could not look her in the eye to see if there was love left for me after I had seen her with the other man.

My third sin was regret.

After all of this, I swore off dating or being with women in general. I maintained that stance for many years after the fact. When I finally met a woman that I believed I could spend the rest of my life with, I was better prepared than ever. I deeply loved her, or at least my impressions of her needs based on my previous misadventures in love. I loved being needed.

I was attentive but patient when providing space, funny but prepared to take a topic seriously, wealthier than ever yet thrifty with words, time, and money alike.

She saw through it, child. When I look back now, I know that I was so occupied with regretting my sins that I had failed to notice her. When we grew old and had children together, Bhavani grew frail.

I can no longer remember her face. I regret that loss too.


“Would you say,” the old man asked, “that Ganesha put me where I am?”

“I’m not certain,” I said.

“I am. I learned too late that my choices not only guided me through life’s maze, but transformed it into the confusing puzzle that it was.”

His gaze flickered away. In his eyes, I saw my own reflection.

“I still don’t understand how you came to be imprisoned. What crime did you commit? All you’ve talked about is lost loves.”

“Everyone dies, child. I die like a criminal. I believe that love defines a man, even to the extent that it can determine how he dies,” said Airawat. He closed his eyes, leaned back into his cell, and vanished forever.

In the morning, while I was sleeping, they took him. I never learned the method of his execution. I never learned if he was even dead.

Somehow, the bars to my prison had also vanished. The guards, the towers, the concrete walkways, and the gates were all gone. Beyond the empty prison, a vast jungle stretched as far as my eyes could see.

Again, I began wandering.


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