Joined: 21 Oct 2007
Location: Dubai - also known as the Artificial City
|Posted: Tue Jun 10, 2008 9:37 am Post subject: Conviction
Kyr's encouraged me to post this, though I don't think it's that good. Something I wrote a while ago and then edited a couple days ago.
Criticism is encouraged.
In the books, they always say that death has no pain.
They’re wrong. There was a fucking lot of it, more than I would have
believed possible to feel in a single moment. Every bullet lodged deep in my skin glowed in my mind, like a beacon of agony. Waves of pain rippled across my chest, shoulders, and legs, merging with each other, forming pools of liquid fire that burned through my muscles like acid. My own gun toppled out of my hand and crashed on the tiled floors, its ring penetrating my ear and bouncing around my mind. I didn’t even hear my skull crack as my legs gave way and the ground rushed up to greet my face. The coppery taste of blood ran down my throat, making me splutter and cough in revulsion. Every beat of my heart banged against my ribs, betraying me as it doggedly pushed my life out of every new wound.
Even as I lay there, my subconscious continued to struggle for life, though it fought a losing battle. A smeared image of my children dragged itself sluggishly across my mind, followed by my wife’s smile.
I should be alive I shouldn’t be here I’ll miss them too much I want to see tommy grow up I want I want I want to live please let me live I don’t want to die here it’s not fair it’s not fair they should be the ones bleeding not me I don’t deserve this god help me please just a little longer give me a little longer to finish them off
But whether it was fair or not, the pain spread through my limbs and I could vaguely hear my voice whining at a high pitch, one I had not reached since I was a small boy. My vision faded to a shaky, black and white picture, like the old television back home. Through this contorted picture I saw one of Them turn their head sharply and scuttle over. It regarded me carefully for an instant with glittering black irises. I raised my head and snarled defiantly, one last time.
“I... may die... but the cause... will continue... forever.”
The last thing I ever saw with mortal eyes was the fading outline of a gun barrel.
Time passed. Months, years, decades swirled around him, insubstantial as mist, meaningless against the slow purge that he was going through. He had shed his body like a butterfly climbed out of a cocoon, leaving the dried shell behind it and emerging tender and beautiful. Now... he had metamorphosed into something else. In the section of his mind that still retained the ability to think as a human supposed that this must be his soul, for it still vaguely held the shape that he recognized as himself... but, inexplicably different. It was impossible to explain in words exactly what happened. The man felt.... drained. All his sins, triumphs, attributes, failings and flaws were leeched from his body, and with every reduction, brilliant light shone through what resembled his skin – and he wept, for the first time he was the webbing of veins in his arm, the hard joints of his bones, the flexing of muscles under rolling skin, and it was beautiful. No surroundings existed for him, because the euphoric feeling of being clean was consuming – not even thoughts of his family or his cause crossed his conscience.
Dying seemed to clear many things from his mind, wiping away the unimportant clutter that was everyday life. A veil was lifted from his eyes, and every deliberation or question now seemed to glow with razor sharp purpose. Complex chains of thoughts and opinions in his mind simply became open doors, his very identity slipping out through them and running into the blank space around him, where he had time to probe them from a distance.
There was no doubt in his mind that this was purgatory, the pit stop before the path to the Lord and Heaven... or hell, for those who had trespassed on the Word of God. But he was not afraid – in his life he had always obeyed the Holy Book, and genuinely tried to uphold the laws within. And so, as the clear feeling left him and he felt the weight of a million memories slip back into his body, he was not afraid, or angry. Mankind had been created by the Lord, and He could take them back whenever he wished. This thought marked the beginning of a new change, where the world began to melt and dribble downwards, like oil paints on a canvas...
Jared awoke to stillness. It was more of a slow rise to consciousness than an abrupt waking, and his eyes opened to slits lazily. He had expected many things, but one thing he had not thought of was a violet sky. Sitting up in alarm, he gazed upward at the odd phenomenon. It was light shade of purple, with red and white clouds checker-boarding across it intricately.
Shaken, he lowered his eyes to the landscape around him. While not as unusual as the sky, it was still alien. He sat on the edge of a paved path that wound endlessly in both directions through a flat and barren landscape that stretched as far as the eye could see. A vague whispering sound drifted towards over the plain, and Jared realized with slight revulsion that it was the long, blackened grass rubbing against itself, producing a sound that was akin to the muted lamentations of a funeral.
Anxiously, his hands flew to his forehead and probed urgently, but no hole remained. The skin was smooth and satiny, as it had always been in life.
“It would make it easier on yerself if ye just picked a direction and went on yer merry way.” A creaking voice muttered into his ear, and Jared whirled around in horrified surprise, expecting to see a specter of terrible power before him. But it was only an old man, face a patchwork quilt of lines and wrinkles that made it difficult to discern his actual features.
“Who are you?” Jared demanded, the initial shock and confusion at the strange place transforming into anger. The old man chortled and slapped his thigh.
“Never gets old, never gets old...” He wheezed, coughing a glob of phlegm into his palm.
“Ye don't need my name, lad. I'm just here to direct ye, like I do to everyone else.”
Pulling himself together, Jared stood up and brushed off his pant legs, noticing with distanced interest that they were the same pair he had worn during that final fight. Raising his head, he stared the old man in his rheumy blue eyes.
“So direct me. I do not fear my fate.”
The man coughed again and spit onto the path. His gaze locked on to Jared's, piercing behind his conscious thoughts and into the slight bubble of judgment that had been placed there during his stay in purgatory. A flicker of confusion crossed his face, before a wobbly, toothless smile broke across it. He pointed down the path to Jared's right.
“That's where yer meant to go.” As Jared opened his mouth, the man cut him off impatiently. “Don't ask any questions. It's not my job to answer them, and I've got other people to direct. Why d'you think it took so long to get here? Backup of souls, that's what. Now scat!”
Jared looked down the path and then glanced back to thank the man, but only a slightly flattened patch of grass remained. He was on his own.
Or perhaps not. For now that he had received his directions, other people were becoming visible to him on the path. But they were insubstantial, like a movie projection into the dusty air. They all walked in the same direction as him, heads bowed, lips moving in silent prayer. He flitted among them, never joining any groups but standing proudly alone. The scenery was unchanging, and so were the lost souls. They neither hungered nor tired, their bones were free from aches and pains, and even though the air was hot and humid around them, no perspiration beaded their brow, and they did not need to breathe, though some did it out of reflex.
Onwards the great stream of souls marched, for what could have been hundreds of years or merely minutes, until a brown smudge appeared on the horizon, eventually solidifying into what was unmistakably a giant gate.
Long before he actually reached them, Jared could see what happened at the massive doors. A soul simply stood before it for a second, and was... almost absorbed through it, as far as he could tell. They remained firmly closed, yet people passed through the carved wood like there was no barrier. While the doors weren't decorated, they still possessed a quiet gracefulness that obviously awed everyone before them.
The line of souls moved forward with infinitesimal slowness, each spending a considerable amount of time with a figure sitting cross-legged on a rock nearby the gates. Jared waited patiently, as did everyone else. As none of them had needs of the flesh anymore, all motivation to move fast was diminished. After all, as one woman behind him remarked, they did have all of eternity to enjoy now – a few hours (or possibly days... who could tell, in this landscape that experienced neither day nor night and was permanently on the verge of dusk?) weren't going to make any difference. Jared spent the time thinking about his children. He wondered how his death had affected them... if the members of his clan had helped out. If the cause had succeeded. The grief was a small, containable bubble in his chest, though – he knew that it would not be too long before his family joined him here.
Eventually, Jared was jostled forward by the press of souls and found himself in front of the sitting figure. To his surprise, it was not a withered old man, nor even what looked like an angel. Instead, a petite, black-haired girl looked up at him with irises that were completely clear, thin black lines that encircled only the white emptiness of her eyes. If he were human, shivers would have erupted down his spine – the girl's face gave an eerie impression of a painted, emotionless doll. She wore only her long, tangled hair, which tumbled irregularly down her shoulders and back. He felt almost taken aback – this slim, frail thing was not what he had expected to guard the gates to Paradise.
The girl tilted her head as she eyed him, remaining silent for a long time. When she finally did speak, it was in a voice that was neither masculine nor feminine, and old as the ages themselves. It reverberated around Jared like a deep gong.
“You are not welcome here, lost one.”
Jared blinked. “This is Heaven, is it not?”
“Heaven, Paradise, Eden, Nirvana, Valhalla, Jannah, whatever you wish to call it... it is all one, and that one is what lies behind these gates. But you are not welcome.”
He smiled patiently, secure in his beliefs.
“I apologize, but I think you're a little mistaken. My name is Jared Woodken. Born in Atlanta to good Christian parents. Never skipped Church in my life.”
The girl's still, serene face did not change, but her voice deepened, causing the ground to vibrate under Jared's feet.
“Do not patronize me, lost one. I am the Watcher, the eternal judge. I have been since the beginning of time itself. I have judged kings and emperors, murderers and saints, babies and urchins. I know everything that you have done in your small pinprick of an existence. If I say that you are not welcome, you are not welcome.”
Fear rippled through him like an electric shock, but Jared had never bowed down to such a petty emotion. The souls behind him in line, obviously listening in, coughed and quickly turned to loud, obnoxiously fake conversation amongst themselves. Taking a deep breath, Jared squared his shoulders and asked,
“But why? May I present my point of view?”
The Watcher nodded. “It will not make a difference. But go ahead... you have all the time in the cosmos.”
He took a breath. “I have followed the Lord as devoutly as I could since I was a little boy. My parents raised me as a good Christian. I've followed the Bible to the letter, and tried to abide by the Ten Commandments. If I sinned, I repented. My children are also being raised to obey God. We're all good people. Why am I not welcome?”
The Watcher chuckled, and the high girlish sound caught him completely by surprise. “You believe that you can lie to me? I assure you, that is the height of foolishness.”
“I'm not lying!” Jared shot back hotly.
“Really? Tell me how you died, lost one.”
He grimaced, the memory still painful, but carried on. “I died in God's crusade. I have my life for what he wanted. Why am I being denied entry when I was only serving him?”
The Watcher ignored the last statement. “I have judged many people who believed that what they were doing was God's will, and even with my intimate knowledge of human behavior, I cannot understand why people like you believe that slaughtering innocent men and women is the road to heaven.”
Jared's face became impassive as he replied, as though he'd had conversations like this before.
“A nigger isn't a man or a woman. They're less than animals. I was carrying out God's commandments by bringing down their uprising.”
“The problem you are now faced with, lost one, is that that was not what God intended his children to do.”
He shook his head, not convinced for a second. “I am right. I know it. But even if I wasn't, I was doing what I thought was the right thing... for God. Isn't that what really matters?”
“Sometimes, it is. Sometimes I do judge your kind of people worthy enough to pass these gates. But not you. Because you were smart enough to know otherwise, lost one. You were educated and brilliant, and you still dedicated your life to a cause that was meaningless and cruel. Even in the darkest of nights when all your life seemed vague and far away, there was no flicker of doubt in your mind about your cause. You couldn't possibly be wrong. That is your sin: pride, the mother of them all. And you are not welcome here.”
Jared's face twisted and he began to shout. “It was right! It was right! They're not human! They're barbarians! Eventually they would have risen up and killed us all! I was protecting my family! God would have wanted that!”
“Are you presuming to tell me what God desires?” The Watcher's face was still calm and collected, but a small spark of anger jumped in her words. Jared ignored it.
“The God I serve believed in me! You... you are servant to a false deity! I will not stand here and listen any longer! The other gates will recognize me for the great things I have done.”
“As you wish. I will judge you at Hell's gates...when you get there. Take this meager time to reflect upon your actions... it may not be too late for you. Perhaps leniency can be granted in your case if you repent.”
The Watcher turned her unnerving eyes to the next soul in line.
Jared lifted his chin high and began marching in the other direction, ignoring the stares of the souls as he passed by. They knew not what they were getting into, he thought contemptuously. This could not be heaven, where the loyal were rewarded eternally.
Although Jared needed no substance, nothing could prepare him for the monumental boredom that accompanied his journey. The landscape was unchanging, the road flat, so once the gates behind him were hidden by the dusty air, he lost track of time and distance. Time seemed to be a flexible thing. Jared imagined it to be like water drops on a window. At times, the seconds crawled down the glass like bulbous snails, stretching out the minutes and hours into eternity, while at other times they cascaded down too fast to see, blurring into a whirlwind of memories that could never be separated. But always he strode forward, jaw set, ready to rip away the pretenses of the Watcher and find his true reward.
Suddenly, another wall loomed up in the distance. As he neared, Jared found that these were at a different set of gates, an impressive and forbidding sight. Tall, elegant spires of what looked like quartz and a black stone with oily rainbows shimmering in its depths rose, spiraling around each other until they reached too high for his eyes to see. In between the spires were two massive doors carved also from some sort of quartz crystal. Figures and words of an ancient language had been inscribed into them. It did not look like the abode of ultimate evil. Perhaps... perhaps this was his true God, one who would see what he had done for Him.
And, as promised, a familiar girl sat on the dirt in front of the gates, staring at him ceaselessly.
Jared, ignoring the Watcher, set forward to touch the doors.
“You are not welcome in Hell either, lost one.” She said, reclining with her back against the cold stone.
He whirled. “What?”
“Whatever you may wish to call him, the other Eternal one does not want you within his halls.”
Seeing Jared fall into a brooding silence, she continued.
“It is a harsh judgment I lay upon you. You have too many good deeds to your name to send you to the fiery abyss – being a good father, never touching the bottle, faithfulness to your wife and educating many young children in your career as a teacher. But I cannot allow you into the other halls, on account of your pride and false conviction. I am truly sorry to assign you such a fate, but that is the way it must be.”
He shook his head and crumpled to the ground. “What can I do? Where can I go?”
“I only guard these two gates, lost one. Perhaps there are others, off in the eternity of this place. But you are only one soul, and I have millions more to judge.”
Just as suddenly as she had appeared, the Watcher vanished, leaving Jared behind in the forsaken road.
Now I wander the plains, ever closed in by the two forbidding walls that view things in a spectrum of only black and white. I can only imagine how many others will face the same fate as me, rejected from Heaven for interpreting the Book in our own way, barred from Hell for having a sense of morals.
There is more to life – and death – than simple rules. The world isn't right or wrong, good or bad. Some people will consider what I've done in my lifetime to be a horrendous deed, others see it as the right thing to do, and all the views in-between. I truly, truly believed that what I did was right. I did it for my God, and that same God has now abandoned me. Only now, when it is too late, has something drastic enough occurred for me to rethink my choice. If I had been weaker in my conviction, would the Watcher have let me in? What if I had listened to the professors in my university and the Dean at the Church, preaching equality? Would I still have the burden of pride upon me, or would I have been free of taint, free to enter Heaven?
But I do not linger on these thoughts.
I think the proper term is that everything is a shade of gray.
But that is not what has happened.
The universe is a dazzling spectrum of many people, opinions and perspectives. All controlled by entities too absorbed in their own sense of 'morals' to realize that their system is flawed. I have found my new cause. There other lost souls, like me. We are gypsy spirits, searching for something else. Something beyond these two entities that deal in extremes. If that makes us bad people, atheists, even, so be it. I will travel with white people and Negroes alike for this cause. My wife and children do not deserve to be exiled for the beliefs that we know in our hearts to be right. There is something else out there, I can feel it. Some other God, one that understands our dilemma.
There has to be. There's no way I can be wrong now.
Truly great madness cannot be achieved without significant intelligence.