How did I find my way here? It wasn’t supposed to be this way, was it? Looking down at my hands, I see them holding my glistening entrails, piled and ropey. I cough, and a spray of blood erupts from my lips.
“You’ll soon see it all,” a raspy voice utters.
From the shadows she emerges, a shallow clay bowl in her hand. The other hand holds a small inward-curved knife with which she deftly slices off a piece of my oozing innards. I feel like I should have known pain at such a vulgar act, yet there is none.
My eyes are glazing over, and I must concentrate to stay standing. I cough again, and the side of her face now has red droplets across it. She doesn’t even flinch. I can smell the acrid, almost sour, scent of my insides. It is clinging to my nostrils. I am nearly fascinated until-
*plip* The sliced off piece of me goes into the bowl and the knife disappears into the folds of her dark tunic. Turning back, she pauses and gently pats my cheek with her weathered palm. She smells like wintergreen and sage.
“You’ll see, my dear.”
She shuffles to a low table beside me. My eyes follow her. I’m still holding my pulsing intestines. I feel something wet drop onto the top of my bare foot.
From the shelf above the table, lined with a myriad of stoppered bottles, her fingers snag two, and she carefully measures out a pinch from one and three pinches from the second, sprinkling them into the bowl. Using a long fingernail, she mixes the contents before holding out the bowl beneath my lips.
“Spit into it,” she rasps.
I swallow then do as she says. My tongue feels dry, and the room seems to be getting darker. She stirs the mixture again before tipping the bowl and gazing intently into it.
“Oh!” she exclaims, a bit surprised by what she Sees. “Hhhmmm…. yes, I can see that,” she continues to mutter.
Once more I weakly cough and this time I know there’s spittle (or is it blood?) running down my chin but still I stand there, swaying slightly. I feel tired. I need answers. I’m confused. How did I get here?
From behind, her hands go to my shoulders, and with a gentle push, she guides me toward the hearth where a low fire crackles and dances. Another nudge from her aged fingers and I find myself kneeling there.
Leaning back on my heels, I’m careful to keep my hands, and their contents, close to my sliced open belly. A movement next to me and the old hag flicks the bowl, along with its concoction, into the flames. Then she takes a small handful of some sort of herb and blows it into the space between me and the fire. I stare into the orange embers. A fine dust falls around me. And without warning, I have transported somewhere else altogether.
I think I finally understand what I need to do. This thing I’ve been reaching out for all my life isn’t going to be found in the confines of what I know. Or at least what I believe to be known. There’s a boundary which needs to be broken, pushed. I have to know. I have to cross over. And it’s with a sound mind I make this decision. I am not giving up, I am moving forward, growing beyond this earthly existence. I want to experience what it means to no longer be this form but to transcend to whatever it is that exists beyond what we can conceive.
And I’ve found a way.
It’s possible she will be able to bring me back, but there’s no guarantee. If she can, I’ll be able to share my newfound knowledge with the world; answer those questions which have plagued mankind since the beginning. And if she can’t, well, that doesn’t matter because I was already committed to taking my own life. The ritual, as described in the text, sounds painful but is necessary. I must be stripped clean of this world, and the only way to do that is through pain. Through suffering, I will purge, open up, awaken parts of me which are dormant.
An awakening- my awakening.
While boxing up a few personal items, a knock comes at my door.
“Hello, can I help you?”
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
“Excuse me? Do I know you?”
“You know me. I was there the first time.”
“I don’t understand. What are you talking-”
It happens quickly but not in the way you would think. I missed the sound, but I can feel the bullet penetrate my forehead. And this is where things slow down. Moving through, brain matter separating and dissolving. I see myself standing in the doorway, holding the gun pressed to my forehead as the back of my skull splinters against the ceiling. And then-
“So, you are unhappy with our arrangement?” She traces her nail along the edge of a section of my exposed intestine.
We had an arrangement? Oh yes, I vaguely recall the book, the words written there, despair, which had long ago dug its grey nails into my skull, quelled for a moment as clarity moved in. This was the answer. Another violent cough and I wretch a bloody mass out onto the floor.
“This, perhaps, wasn’t exactly what you had in mind? Ohhh, you expected to die, to be reborn, to gain epiphany.” Her nail hooks a bit of entrail and the squelching sound tells me she’s moving it, tugging a little. “Maybe, we try again? You’ll soon get the hang of it. And…. maybe next time… read the fine print.”
It’s not at all like you think, no. There’s pain, oh such pain, as time becomes utterly meaningless. Time. The first cord that is cut. The terrible burning and cutting and breaking and separating and shifting and freezing and slipping and crushing and cracking all happens at once and the intensity of the first moment doesn’t lessen as it would when time is on your side, and your endorphins kick in and help override the pain. No. Time is gone. That supreme moment of surprising excruciating agony is forever. It remains as intense and real as always.
“You’re making this much more complicated than it needs to be.”
Physical torment times a thousand. Never ending. What happens when the next cord is slashed? Try again? Sure, why not . . .
“I have given you exactly what you thought you wanted so don’t look at me like that. The suffering, the knowledge, it’s all yours.”
The mirror stares back at me. It’s true, this is all mine. My gift. My awakening. I look down at the myriad of shapes and colors in my hand. A few fall to the floor as I stuff the pills in my gaping hole; but that’s okay, there’s more than enough to do the job. Pills would have never been my first choice, but I’m sick of putting a bullet in my head. Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over. And maybe it’ll be different this time.
I think I’m beginning to understand. That day, the one when I put the gun to my forehead and pulled the trigger was the first time. Well, if you look at things in a linear, mortal sense, then yes, it was the first time. But there is no first time. There’s only time. And what can be more painful than time? When we are given the realization that none of this is real then what are we left with? We always worry about our time running out, think that we have only a finite amount of time in this life. No, that’s not how it works; there’s nothing but time. Endless and full of more pain than our limited imaginations could ever fathom. We think we know so much, with our pathetic, limited awareness. We only have one life to live, make the most of it! Shit, just wait, you are going to wish that was the case. One life, sure, but it never ends. At least not in the way you think.
But hey, maybe things will work out differently for you, who knows? Or maybe hell is real, and that’s exactly where I am. If so, you better hope there’s a heaven, and even more so, that they let you in.
From the shadows, she emerges, a shallow bowl in hand . . .
©️tara caribou & The Stories In Between 2018
Writing with Stories is such a stretching and growing experience for me. I find myself reaching deeper and working to attain his level of storytelling. But it’s always a great experience and I look forward to writing more with him.