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A Mnemosyne story
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The body seemed as cold as the air when I touched it. There is a soft and supple sense to living flesh when you lay your hands upon it, caress it and hold it close. When you press your cheek to the dead that essence of life is gone; it is as if you were simply lying face down on a rough clay statue, with a dread sense of wrongness. The knowledge that once life flourished and inhabited the empty shell before you disrupts the sense of balance to the world and makes it drift off-kilter and crooked.
I was not afraid of my own death as I hugged Theodore's body close. My own mortality was the farthest thing from my mind. Instead I was terrified of the thought of what my life would resemble from now on. Would each dark memory from my past be resurrected to destroy any happiness in my future? The world seemed to be liquid around me, flowing and conforming to rules I no longer understood but were centered upon me. Theodore had represented a sweet normality and understandable anchor in my now chaotic world. He had been simple, and I had destroyed him for it.
His body drove the thought of blaming Kevin for what had happened. The creature that pursued us and killed Theodore had not been Kevin any more than the car I sat in was really my father's old Escort. They were extensions of me - my incorrect memories of old things come back to haunt my present. The memories that I was too attached to, or the memories that I tried most to forget - those with the most affect on my life were springing all too real into the world.
With nothing left to do, I got out of the car, feeling empty. Kevin was not visible on the street or sidewalk. The only sign of his presence was a black top hat rolling in a slow circle behind the car, out in the middle of the street. The top had somehow been caved in, but the rest of the hat was pristine. I watched it roll for a moment, and then walked around the car. The front was still crushed into the light post, forcing me to go behind the car to get to the passenger side door.
The door was warped from the impact, and try as I might, I could not get it open. After putting both hands onto the latch and using my full body weight to try and open it, whereupon I slipped and fell back to the pavement, I lost patience. I simply stood up and erased the door. One moment it was there, and the next it was not. There was no wrinkle in time, or warping of space. The metal and plastic simply vanished, as if it had never existed. It took no effort at all - I wished it gone and it happened. I had finally accepted my control over the world around me, and with that acceptance came power. The air seemed to crackle with my knowledge of my own potency; a byproduct of my subconscious desire for some physical manifestation of might.
Dead bodies are heavy. I had never thought to try and lift and carry one before, so never thought of the origin of the term "dead weight." Theodore's limp limbs flopped like pillows filled with lead—impossible to maneuver efficiently. At first I tried to lift him up with one arm under his knees and the other under his shoulders, but I was nowhere near strong enough for that. I finally settled for wrapping my arms around his torso and pulling him backwards out of the car, dragging his legs along behind. It was not a dignified way to move him, but I didn't want to just leave him in that car.
Having nowhere else to take Theodore, and no one in the world to turn to, I slowly pulled his body along the street, resting every twenty or thirty feet. The air was no longer cold, and no steam came from my breaths. The chill had been replaced by a strange lack of feeling: neither cold nor hot, no stirring of wind or air at all. Waving my hand quickly produced no sensation of fluid movement or cooling from the air around me. It was as if I was moving through vacuum, yet I could still breathe. I still felt the need to breathe, which was strange. I suppose that a lifetime of reinforced autonomic behavior is not so easily banished from the mind.
At the end of the street a small park had been built on the opposite side of the crossroads. It celebrated something important about the city, though I'm not sure what. A statue of some figure of historical importance stood in a tiny strip of grass surrounded by iron benches, hand raised and pointing toward something on the horizon. The face was indistinguishable with age and weather, and the letters on the worn placard swam and melted as I looked at them. The bronze figure took on an amorphous quality as I looked at it, shifting quickly from one human shape to another before finally settling into the familiar cast of my own body.
My hand sculpted in bronze gestured at me impatiently and snapped its fingers once before returning to its fixed position, pointing ever into the distance. Forward or backward I could not tell, the statue implored me to look to where it pointed. I turned and stared at the skyline of the city. A brilliant silver light illuminated the edges of the sky in all directions—a light that had no source, no beginning, and no ending. As I watched, the horizon peeled apart in front of me, revealing everything that was hidden behind it.
At first I thought I gazed into my past. I could see myself sitting in a dark room, face tired and streaked with weeping. Dark bruises were raised across my face, and I prodded at them tenderly. Standing on the city street near the statue, I raised my hand in a mirror of the image of me behind the sky and touched my face, feeling the softness and swelling of bruises I had not possessed moments ago. I winced in sympathy, and my counterpart did the same.
I could hear the sound of a voice, muted as it came through a door or a wall, and watched myself slink backwards and away across a large bed, shrinking away from the sound. A loud banging followed, until finally a door burst open, casting a huge column of dark orange light across the entire city in front of my physical form. Silhouetted in the door was the shadow of a large man, bulky in the middle and broad across the shoulders. It was not a shape I recognized. The orange light illuminated my sky reflection, and I could see signs of age upon me that I had not developed yet - grey hairs, wrinkles around the eyes, a slump to the shoulders that I did not have. I was not looking into my past, but into my future.
Laid bare before me was the obviousness of the repeated patterns of my life. A man I had yet to meet—not Theodore—would take my self-worth from me, as had happened with Kevin years before. And he would do it in the same way, with charm and suave cruel intellect. I found a touch of cruelty to be like the trim of a fancy sports car, exactly the trapping that takes a person from gaudy and ridiculous to cool and refined. I had not learned from Kevin, only repressed and avoided. My past and my future were the same.
Watching my own future before me made it easy to recognize the inevitability of my personal cycle. I did not live for growth or exploration, except in the shallowest sense. In fact, I avoided it at all costs. I suppressed difficult situations from my memory and pretended they had not happened. All that mattered to me was creating the image of a perfect life: great job, fast car, nice sunglasses. I would force myself through cycle after cycle desperately trying to blot out any imperfections I could see on each pass, never moving forward. Pain was a simple mar in the paint job of my life, rather than something to be learned from.
Yet, if I dwelled upon the past, I could no more avoid a repetition than if I ignored it. Reliving each mistake in my memory would carve my consciousness into a pattern through with the liquid essence of time would flow, condemning me again to a spiral of similarity, unable to escape. I could only act according to my personality, and by lingering in my memory rather than the present, I would shape my personality to the past, and always be the person I had been when the memories happened. By studying my past in the hopes to avoid repeating it, I would craft myself into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and algorithm of my own destruction.
There was no escape. I could see that now, gazing at my cowering and terrified form in the sky. There was no balance between learning from the past and living for the future. It did not exist. Only echoes upon echoes upon echoes. As I watched my skyline counterpart stare in horror at the silhouette, the light spaces around the dark form began to fill in with images of myself and Kevin. Flashes of him screaming and tears running down my face bled into scenes of my face, empty and devastated while lying against his chest in bed. Tired and having seen enough, I reached up to the sky and pulled the horizon back down to meet the earth like tugging a window blind.
I looked down at Theodore's body lying cold and lifeless on the sidewalk. It looked even less real now than before, like a body used in a stage play. His eyes and mouth were closed and his arms lay spread slightly out at his sides. The skin of his face was a pale white, accented by the bluish tinge to his lips. He had become a spectacle of the winter around us, a figure from a children's story, the personification of cold.
I bent over him and gently kissed his lips one last time. The knowledge that they were cold was sharp in my mind, but I did not feel the chill. Instead I felt the warmth of all of the possibility of a bright future I could have had with him. With a final touch of his cheek, I stepped back and waved my hand over his still figure. Theodore's dark winter clothing faded to a white that matched his skin. Then the fading spread to his skin as his body grew ever more translucent, revealing the sidewalk beneath it. Finally nothing remained of his presence. No blood marred the sidewalk, no marks in the snow and ice that showed a body had lain there. Nothing. I turned and walked away, pacing slowly along the empty streets.
When I reached the bar again, Kevin's hat was missing from the middle of the road. He wasn't difficult to find as he lurked in the small alley where he had first caught me by surprise. Just twenty minutes prior his dark clad form standing motionless between the buildings would have been terrifying. Now it just looked sad and ridiculous. An overweight bespectacled overgrown kid trying to look like Jack the Ripper, there was nothing to him. I snickered as I looked at him standing there with knife in hand and hat on head. His bloated face looked sad and confused, and perhaps a little disappointed.
His expression brought even more mirth to my lips, and I leaned back and laughed deeply from the belly, letting all of the pent up emotion hurl itself from my mouth into the sky. When I looked back Kevin was rushing at me across the pavement. I chuckled and waved my hand. A great wind screamed down from the stars and picked him up, whirling him through the air to slam into the brick of the bar. He looked at me in shock, and then began to steam. Black bursts of smoke and vapor boiled up from his body and he rolled on the ground, trying to scream in fear. He made it to his feet and began to run down the street before he faded completely.
My chuckling slowed, and I began to walk down the street. As I did, people began coalescing around me. I no longer needed Kevin in my future or my past. My realization of the circular nature of my life obviated the need for the obvious signs of repetition. I had no need of reinforcement now that I acknowledge the spiral upon which I rode. There was no longer any need for my own personal world of existence, where I had been dwelling perhaps my entire life. The street around me grew life as I moved through the city, strolling aimlessly until I arrived at a warm and interesting looking bar to which I had never been.
That is where I am now, writing this so that perhaps someday someone may benefit from it. Perhaps that person will even be who I become. You see, I have figured out how to defeat the pattern of my life, and perhaps the pattern of yours.
We can never truly learn from the past if we remain the same people we are when we study it. Our personalities dictate our course of action far more than our breadth of knowledge. The only way to change where you are going is to change who is going there. Namely, yourself.
I have decided that my time on this earth has been enough, and the person I am must come to an end. To accomplish this goal, I am sitting in this bar and drinking until I forget everything about myself. When that fades from existing, as I know it will, I will cease being me, and a new person will walk out of this bar into the city. I hope that he won't make the same mistakes that I have, but there is nothing I can do about that. He isn't me, and I can't affect him, or this won't work.
So, here is to you, and here is to me, and here is to him. Good luck and Godspeed.
Story and image by Nick Bergeron, Copyright 2010