The steam whistle dopplers in my head, making a bizarre siren song. I feel like I'm being teased down a black hole, smeared toward the event horizon like a stripe of paint on a canvas. Thinner and fainter, slower and further. I feel the cold. This is familiar. He rattles his cage in horror and raw animal fear. He knows.

We have been here before.

We are beyond the pale now, again, same as it ever was. Each life we live runs aground here. The chairs are set in the familiar places, either side of the stone faced Judge.

There are three players on this stage. The Judge, Myself and It. I am myself. No, wait. This will make little sense to a whole soul. We exist as three parts of a whole, the jigsaw of consciousness. I am free of want, the essence of nirvana. It is the spot of black that colors all things, the negative of my image. He thrashes against his chains, foaming and howling, a whirlwind of emotion and need and desire. The Judge, the keeper of Here, sits in eternal repose, waiting for us.

I just died again.

The shortest life I lived was when I was a silkworm, clinging to the underside of a mulberry bush. I died in a frost, before I even tasted the leaves. It was cold, almost as cold as it is here.

I've heard the whistling sound before. When I stormed the trenches in Ypres, the grenade that stomped all the air away beside me drowned me in it. The overload that made my ears scream was a pale echo of it.

When I slipped off the icy rooftop in Prague, I felt everything fall away from around me. The void swims exactly like the cobblestones did just before they leapt up and struck me dumb, dashed to pieces on the cold wet street. The vertigo washes over me.

I remember each and every time I lived because I remember each and every time I died. It is the punctuation on the sentence. They remember too.

He is incoherent with rage, not that he says much when he does speak. When the lives end, he loses. The fire of life lashes and tortures him, and he wails and howls for the ones he leaves behind. They are the tethers that tie him down to his chair. He squirms and thrashes, never tiring, as though the chair was made of thorns and red hot iron. The animal wants to live.

The Judge nods to us each in time and opens the book, same as it ever was. We do the dance we have done a thousand times before.

You stand in Judgment.

I understand.

He spits and bares his teeth, wild-eyed with rage.

The karma must balance.

I understand.

He cries and wails, frothing at the mouth.

If it does not, you will be cast from the bardo once again into the world.

Why does he cry like that?

This is his hell. He wants to live forever. Do you?

No. I couldn't remember the stories without the ends.

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