Perhaps it began rather simply.
I can't remember the beginning.
Such a quiet sound, it was easily disregarded. Disembodied whispers... murmurs... incoherent and having no discernable source. I didn't really know it was even going on for a very long time. Eventually it became part of the background noise of my childhood, and I would only take notice of it when playing with my friends or at school — moments when I realized that I could hear the sound and The Others could not. It was frightening in its isolation, but children are easily distracted, and I would never dwell upon it for long.
There's too much noise here... It's so loud.
Too loud to think.
I can't concentrate... this isn't working.
My head hurts... My ears are ringing.
I've got to get out of here...
As I grew older, I realized that things were changing within me — moving in the dark corners of the back of my mind. The sound began to manifest itself in the visible spectrum. In dreams at first... but before long, in waking moments. Ghosts. Dark, blurry spectres. Terrifying glimpses of them, shooting up from nowhere, now evoking a terror in me unlike any I had known before. And it was clear to me now that they were the source of the sound. I can't describe the feeling of dread they instilled in me — or the grip of horror I was in when they were present, for they wanted my soul. Whenever they came for me, I ran.
And as I ran, they manifested themselves from the nothing, more frequently and in greater numbers. And I ran and I ran so that I would not see them behind me. But they were quicker and wilier than me, and as my trampling feet wore raw and the sweat poured down me as if condensing from a thick fog, they began to overtake me. Spinning blurs at first, in my peripheral vision... and then, suddenly, they were all in front of me. Now I was running towards them — and my heart stopped with fear. I knew I could not run any faster to escape them. I am trapped... I am haunted.
I've got to hide.
This isn't really happening. This is a joke, right?
Somebody please tell me this is a joke. I am not laughing... this isn't funny, okay?
If I can just stop all this noise, everything will return to normal. It's going to be okay.
I can make this stop. I can will it to end.
I am not going to succumb to this reality. I will fight it.
I will muster my resolve and do whatever I have to do to fucking stop this.
I will not be beaten. I will prevail. I must not fear. I will be strong.
I will toughen up. I will not cry. I will not laugh.
I will focus all my power on making this go back to where it came from.
I will do this, or I will die trying... so help me God.
I thought my hiding place was so clever. It was in the middle of a grassy valley, in the wide open away from the cover of all the canopy trees of the forest. Right out in plain sight with all The Others... at the center point of conspicuousness! Here, I would blend in. I would become a blade of grass. So green and long, so normal and homogeneous. I would be overlooked among the lush lawn of my peers. So nondescript. So common as a raindrop in a torrential downpour. I would become invisible while in full view. They will never find me here.
The cloak I had formed to enshroud my soul was shabby at first: prickly and ill-fitting. It was itchy and rubbed me raw. But I worked on it: modifying the material, the lining, the seams and finery. I ignored the discomfort as best I could. In time, it became like a second skin. I taught myself the craft of tailoring my own costume, and practiced my lines until I knew every one as rote. Oh, I knew that some still had the insight to spot a charlatan, even at the most casual glance, but I found the benefit of their doubt to work in my favor every time. Most were too dull or self-absorbed to detect my hoax. They would not betray me to the phantoms that flew in the midnight sky, searching for me with the indetermination of the Damned. The horrific vision of these ethereal demons plagued my dreams, but they would not find me. Of that I had made certain. This would work. It had to.
What is happening to me?
My mouth is dry. My digits are numb.
My spine tingles and aches. My vision is blurred.
I hear only murmurs and echoes. I'm gasping for breath...
Oh my God! — This costume has become a cocoon!
Oh Hell! What have I done? I can't see or breathe or feel!
I am trapped in a prison of my own making!
I can smell my blood coagulating in my veins,
and my heart is slowing down until I can barely detect my own pulse!
I am becoming mummified...
This is not working! This is killing me!
Would I rather die inside than face those devils?
Is my fear so consuming that I would will myself
into this elaborate graven lie for all eternity?
Then, as if emancipated from a dream, it came upon me one day like a bolt out of the blue: I am drowning. So deep was I in the black water that almost no light came through from above. My lungs burned in their collapse. As awareness of this orientation washed over me, I began to kick and paddle — blinking and wide-eyed as though startled from a deep sleep. The undertow had grabbed me somehow, while I was pretending. I thought I was laughing and waving and splashing about with all The Others on a sunny holiday, but my own riptide had taken me down and out into the gulf — far from shore and without a life preserver. I was lost, having condemned myself to this watery grave. Kick and push as I might, this was It. I have fucked myself.
And as I gave in to this final resolution, I relaxed. So be it. It is finished. No more lies, no more pretension. This is the end. I do not have the will to fight anymore: It is of no use. My soul is too weak. I am the Damned. So let it be, and in my final moments I will accept this and be — finally — at peace.
I want to breathe the air again,
and smell the soury sweetness of the summer rain
as it falls on the pavement and the lawns and the canopy trees.
I want to see the sun and bathe in its warm blinding beauty.
I want to run and feel the breeze against my skin,
the pounding of my heart, and the reverberation in my bones.
I want to feel the touch of The Others,
and give in to its piercing cry
that I have denied and ignored for so very very long.
I want to taste... Everything!
My God, I want to live!
I don't know why I'm doing this and I don't care about it anymore...
I want what I've denied myself...
I want what I thought I could never have.
I want another chance!
I want to begin again...
please, please, please...
Don't let this be the end!
The ghosts surrounded me.
I had never seen so many all at once: I was enveloped.
But this time, no fear...
They clung to me, piling on — thousands of them. Lifting me up... Up, up — towards the light. I sensed my pulse for the first time in ages, quickening — was my blood thinning? My opaque eyes grew clearer, and the light above grew brighter. And the sound... dull at first... it grew sharper. Sweet Jesus, they are singing! Drawing me up, out of the black black sea... out of the asphyxiating grave of my own foolishness, sorrow and self-denial. The rush towards the light grew faster, and my senses grew keener. I was at once a rocket, propelled by forces I had never dared to stare in the face. And as they shot me out of the briny deep, high above the waves... the warm salt air filled my tortured lungs. I gasped and cried, feeling as though my head would explode. I was shaking and dripping as I was spirited towards the distant sandy shoreline — the stinging breeze flowing hard against my suddenly tingling skin.
As the sugar-white sand of the beach approached me in flight, I doubled over and disgorged a volume of sea water that projected from me like a molten flame. It looked like black blood... filled with paralyzing terror and vengeful anger... all the puerile fears of judgement from The Others were expelled out of me in an instantaneous heave. Purged of this evil at long last, I raised my head in time to be set down gently upon the shore. My knees were so weak — I sunk into the sand and was laid down, my head falling back and my crying eyes gazing up into the cloudless blue sky.
And as I gasped at the salty air, it was then that I finally saw them: These apparitions that had chased me and hunted me down — the very ones that I had run from and hid from for so many years. They were the ones that had found me in my final moment of surrender and rescued me from oblivion.
They were angels!
As they released me there on the shore, they drifted up away from me into the sky — smiling and singing and radiating a light of truth and beauty that I could never have ever imagined. My stinging eyes filled again with tears, and I wept at their magnificence... floating away into the sunlight — brilliant and beatific, filling the air with luminous understanding and the sweet harmonies of acceptance. I gazed in awe as they disappeared, and I felt a throb in my throat — then, a tremble of realization:
I have been saved.
But this is a hollow salvation.
I lay there and baked for a while in the blazing sunlight, reflecting on the long chapter of my life that had just ended. I thought of The Others, who had spent these same years growing and integrating, while I was deluded into becoming some post-modern Jonah. My angels née devils were gone now for good, and I was on my own. The joy I felt over being released from my torment was now tinged with disquiet. My soul still yearned; it must be quickened.
When my strength returned enough to stand, I realized that I knew this beach. It had once been the valley of grass I had hidden myself in. Every green blade was now gone, as was the shady forest beyond. As I rose and walked away from the Gulf of Lies, my eyes met only sandy dunes. The long immersion in the salty sea had bled me nearly dry in so many ways. Crystals of salt formed on my skin as I trod across the desert in search of an oasis. I had been freed, but was still far from freedom.
I walked on, and in time the sound of the waves breaking on the shore was replaced by the whisper of the wind moving the sand across the dunes. The brutal sun bore down on me, harder and harder with every step. I began to lose my sense of awareness again, walking towards... I knew not what. Without guidance... without direction... trudging forward...
O my soul...
What happens now? Where am I going?
Have I been saved only to wander forever in this wasteland?
There has to be more than this.
This salvation is excruciating in its silence... I am more alone now than ever before.
I wasn't prepared for this. I am not trained to survive here.
If and when I find my oasis, will I recognize it?
Will I dismiss it as a mirage? Am I blinded by these years of conditioning?
I will go as far as I can... This emptiness drives me...
But should I find it, at long last... when I know it to be true,
Will I be able to really experience it?
My soul is so viscous, I fear it may never pour out.
Although allegorical, this is a true story. Many thanks to a special noder for his inspiration and assistance.