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Endless

endless


Estimated reading time โ€” 24 minutes

Horror is subjective, there’s no denying that. I have told my story to others over the years, to which some have claimed that it was no more than a sob story, masquerading as horror. As I said; subjective. Were I to tell you of the molestation my father’s brother forced upon me before I was old enough for my mind to even be able to rationalize it, I would imagine this would not quite qualify as horrific, to some. To me, it most definitely was, but to a reader, perhaps, not quite. Of course, this is only the beginning of my tale.

My childhood home was located in a small town on the outskirts of London. When my father; who was not expected to return to the house for many hours, as he was attending a very important business meeting in the city, arrived back home, just in time to witness my uncle’s abuse firsthand, I bore witness to a very different brand of horror; one far more akin to the more traditional expectations of the genre, I would think. Though he used no more than his bare hands to subdue his older brother, there was very little life left in the man by the time my father summoned the authorities to our home.

The police were remarkably understanding about the actions of my father, so he would face no prison time for leaving my uncle bound to a hospital bed for a great many months, though the events which played out before my eyes left quite the stain on my already troubled soul. Though tears filled my eyes due to what my uncle forced upon me, I can still clearly see the pounding of my father’s fists splashing scarlet streams across the walls. Yes, I could describe to you in vivid detail, the swollen and splitting flesh of my abuser’s face, tearing away in grizzled chunks as my father waged his rage-fueled assault, but that would be far more gratuitous than necessary. Again, perhaps more to the liking of those looking for a more expected horror story, but still unnecessary.

Only months after that day, we fled the country, with my parents hopeful that I could push these memories away into the black. We relocated to the states, where both my mother and father would go on to find far more lucrative employment than they had previously achieved. My father was something of a businessman, though I cannot tell you much more than that, as I cared little for such things in my youth. My mother was a teacher, finding her place amongst the faculty of a well-respected college just outside of the town in which we lived. I will neither include the name of the school, nor the city in question, for reasons you may understand quite soon.

I was nearing twelve when I awoke in the middle of the night, due to the nightmares which still haunted me in the dark, while I lay still behind the protective comfort of my closed eyelids. As I sat straight up in my bed, still reeling from the distorted memories of the troubled times gone by, I noticed the light beaming from the red-painted shed which rested behind my home, through the window parallel to my bed. Though the terrors of my youth left me skittish and weary of just about everything, I was also overburdened with a growing curiosity for anything that struck my mind to be of interest. As such, I took it upon myself to investigate the small wooden building my parents would keep hidden from me behind a large, metal padlock.

I crept down the stairs, in hopes of not alerting my guardians to my late-night curiosities. I slowly flipped the locks of the backdoor, before gently turning the knob to grant me entry to the outside world. As I drew closer to the shed, I heard sounds both familiar and foreign to me, along with almost unnaturally muffled voices. The dark curtains covering the windows allowed me no way of seeing through; only the light which shone from behind and around them. It would seem; should I hope to quench the thirst of my curious mind, I would have little choice but to enter. The lock had been removed from the clasp, which splayed open beside the door, leading me to believe it had either been left this way by my parents, or by someone forcing their way into the wooden building.

Though my skin trembled, both with anticipation and fear in equal amounts, I reached a shaky hand to the latch of the simple door. As I slowly turned the handle, pulling the door ajar, I felt my jaw hang wide, while the blood drained from the upper half of my body. The young woman whom I had never before laid eyes on, was strapped to a long table, with her right arm and both thighs bound by thick, leather straps. She feebly moaned through the rag which had seemingly been forced into her mouth, while my father sliced through her flesh before me. He had not noticed my arrival, as he appeared fully consumed by the task at hand.

He wore blue, denim overalls, which were spattered with both dried and fresh specs of crimson and ruby red stains. The blade within his grasp was long and jagged, causing sounds not unlike the tearing of thick fabric while he sawed into her. Her movements were only subtle, as there was very little holding her together into one solid structure anymore, and I had to believe her suffering had almost come to a close. There were deep gashes all over her, along with gaping, meaty holes where clumps of flesh and muscle once sat in place, now layering the plastic-lined floor.

Both of her legs had been removed below the knee, while my father worked on separating her left arm at the shoulder. As the bone and tissue finally gave way, I audibly gasped as the arm fell to meet the discarded legs and grizzled shrapnel on the floor. When my father turned to face me with streams of scarlet across his face, his own jaw fell wide upon meeting my trembling gaze. He dropped his blood-soaked blade to the floor, while slowly pacing toward me with his arms outstretched and his eyes wide and glassy. I had not even realized the burgeoning scream which bellowed out from within me had already been lurking in my throat in preparation for its release.

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As I fled from the man who now softly called my name into the night, my wailing yells awoke an array of sounds through the sporadic neighborhood in which my home was located. Though the other houses were many yards apart from one another, some of their inhabitants creaked open their doors as I ran flailing through the chilly night air. My father, still in pursuit, and still clothed in his blood-stained garments, came to a halt as an elderly man wrapped his arms around me, lifting me from the centerline of the two-lane road which ran between the scattered buildings.

My father stopped in place, gazing into the eyes of the man who held me; guarding me against the one he believed sought to bring me harm. The hours that followed faded into a blur before me. Once more, the authorities arrived at the home I shared with my loving parents; this time to transport the one who saved me from my uncle’s ravagings to a far less than enviable and uncertain future. The investigation and subsequent trial which followed did not last long, as my father took little time in confessing to all seventeen of the lives he had taken, even those he had ended before our trip across the Atlantic.

How many years he had been feeding his impulses this way, I cannot say, but it was a truly devastating revelation to my mother and me, along with many more who had grown to respect him over the years. Before his trial resulted in an impending death sentence, the denizens of the small city in which we lived had already begun to wage a war fueled by fear and hatred against us. Though my father had proved to be quite the wretched individual, his more legal ventures over the years had left us a great deal of financial stability. This would enable us to make our way to another town; one far away from those who considered us to be as guilty as my father.

As the years progressed, the word of my father’s foul deeds reached our new home, garnering my mother and me another assault of hatred and mockery, ultimately leading to my witnessing yet another gruesome sight upon opening a door. The shotgun my mother used to end her life had left very little of her head intact, which was the very first thing that greeted me on my arrival back home after school ended that day, only weeks before my fifteenth birthday. I can’t exactly say how long I stood there, under the frame of that splayed open entryway. I was still in a daze while I reached for the phone to beckon one more visit from the authorities.

Their interrogations lasted for hours, during which I was only vaguely coherent. I even found myself locked away in my own cell for a time, though mine was lined with padded walls, as opposed to the metal bars which held my father in place, until the electricity would course through his body. I didn’t find myself relocated to that dismal place at first, though. It wasn’t until I made my efforts to put a permanent end to the memories which plagued me, that I was bound in a buckled jacket and led to the place which would serve as my home for some years. While my mother had dramatically taken her life by blasting her head into little more than scattered fragments of bloodied skull, I merely sliced through the veins which lay beneath the flesh of my wrists. I vividly remember fading away into the black, before I found my eyelids springing back open, with my body strapped to the rolling gurney.

For some years, I remained in that room before I was considered fit to live among the free. My time spent there allowed me the opportunity to mend my weary mind and troubled thoughts to a point, though I cannot claim I am not still haunted by the events which put my childhood to rest. I can honestly say that the doctors who treated me during my stay in the secluded facility, did manage to break me free from the protective shell I had forged around myself, though I may not have been as mentally sound as I led them to believe. Still, had it not been for their intervention, I would surely have made further efforts to end my suffering far sooner.

Once I was permitted to leave the institution, I was finally ready to make my way in this world. I was nearing nineteen years of age, so I would be able to claim what remained of my father’s fortune. My mother had apparently put a great deal of planning into her departure from this world, having transferred her accounts into one under my name. Though our cross country relocation, along with the subsequent years she and I had spent attempting to hide from my father’s legacy, had depleted them somewhat, there was still more than enough for me to make my way back to my home country, while affording me my own house upon my arrival.

Though I was unsure if the tales of my father’s nefarious actions would follow me back to the town I was born into, I made sure to legally change my name, in hopes of avoiding any association with the man. Given the fact that I was unsure of exactly when my father had begun feeding his impulses, I did not wish to carry his surname back to a place it may be all too familiar. Though life progressed far less chaotically than my childhood years had, I cannot claim that I was particularly content. Yes, I was still financially stable, but I could not quite find my place in this world.

Now, I have little doubt that any of you who may still be reading these words would consider anything I have shared to be especially horrific. Yes, I have witnessed more than my share of mangled husks of human flesh and bone; far more so than the average person, I would think, but does this qualify my tale to be one of horrors? Perhaps not. We all have our share of demons, lurking in the dark corners of our rooms and homes. We have all experienced troubling times; during which we could never conceive of a world in which we did not suffer. I’m sure there are many who have witnessed far more horrendous sights than those I have described through this handful of paragraphs, and I do not doubt that there are far greater threats hiding away, just to the side of where we are looking. Still, my story has not come to a close just yet.

As the years continued to trickle by, I found myself growing more and more devoid of emotion. My mornings would each share a similar battle, during which I would consider whether or not it would be worth my time to break free from my warm bed; to face the outside world once more. Though I would inevitably emerge from within the safety of my blankets, I lacked the drive to do anything productive with my time. I had considered seeking employment, though I had little in the way of skills or experience to garner much interest from prospective employers. After weeks turned to months, I began to find my old friend; despair, wrapping its tendrils around me once more.

My second effort to end my suffering was far less dramatic than my first; involving little more than a bottle of pills I purchased from a stranger who beckoned to me from a street corner one rainy evening. Within only minutes of my ingesting the twenty or so little green pills, my head felt almost blissfully loopy and light. Moments later, I felt my body droop, growing weaker and more disconnected from my brain by the second. I can’t speak to how much time passed by before the world spun around me, causing me to feel almost weightless as my senses were consumed by the black once more. For that brief moment; as I careened into glorious darkness, I felt freer and filled with glee than I had ever known. As with all of the fleeting moments of joy my life had shown me, this too was to be short-lived.

When my eyes blinked back to awareness, I lay still on my comfortable bed, momentarily confused by the events which led me there. Though I fully recalled my purchase of the bottle of little green pills, I could find absolutely no evidence they had ever existed. I patrolled the area at which I had been beckoned by the stranger, to find as little trace of him as the bottle which I knew to have fallen from my fingertips as the life drained out of me. Could this series of events have been no more than a manifestation from my subconscious mind while I slept; perhaps to convince me that this was not the answer to what ails me? I could find no other rationalization, leaving me little choice but to continue plundering through the daily life I had grown to detest.

It would be the following year before I came to face my inevitable end for a third time, though it would not be delivered by my own hands, but by a large SUV that careened through the crosswalk, I was making my way across. I was not alone as I traversed the busy streets of London that day; accompanied by many strangers across the striped lines dividing the traffic on either side. I have quite a remarkable memory. I will not use such words as photographic or eidetic or anything so grandiose, but I can recall many things in vivid detail. I can still feel the sensation of my skull cracking across the windshield of the tall, blue-colored vehicle. When I close my eyes, I can still see the attractive blonde woman falling lifeless next to where I lay bleeding on the concrete ground. When I awakened the following day; once more under my warm comforter, I had no doubt this most recent passing from this world was no simple dream.

As I lay there dwelling on the troubling life which I desperately craved a release from, I could not help but wonder if I was somehow immune to the powers of death himself. Since I had not fulfilled much schooling through the chaotic events which plagued my youth, perhaps I had not gained enough learned experience on why this was such a preposterous concept to consider. It was that very internal argument that inspired me to seek out further education. Though my father’s nest egg still provided anything I may need, I had to consider that this would not carry me much further in life. Should I continue to be unable to seek an end to my pain, I would have little choice but to continue living. My desire to endure life had not gained any momentum, regardless of freeing myself from the torment of my youth, but it would appear I had little choice in the matter.

I enrolled myself in a wide array of classes to further my limited education; some of which I truly enjoyed. My studies finally provided me an escape from the misery I had allowed to consume me for far too long while surrounding me with others; some of whom I would go on to befriend. Those early days were the most difficult, as I had barely interacted with anyone in many years, outside of the passing relationships formed with those tending the counters of the local shops I would frequent for necessities.

I grew quite close to my new friends; Clarence and Rory over the years I spent attending classes in their company. They would go on to be the only confidants I had ever known, outside of those who watched over me during my stay in that padded cell so many years before. Rory was the older of us, and something of a philosopher in the way he thought and spoke, though we would often find ourselves chuckling at his more conspiracy-fueled theories of life, the universe, and everything. Clarence was something of a comedian, as well as the athletic one of our humble trio, but we all had common ground in the tragedies which lay our childhoods to rest. I will not reveal the events which still plagued their troubled minds, as it is not my story to tell, though their respective histories did pave the groundwork for the bonds we formed.

After our shared schooling ended, we went on to form a simple web design firm together. It was nothing especially profitable at first, but it allowed us a great deal of freedom in having no strict schedules to meet, depending on what our clients would require at the time, of course. Within a few years, we had forged quite a decent living through our ventures, and, with my friends by my side, I finally looked forward to what tomorrow may hold. It was a feeling I had never before known; to no longer seek to end my dreary existence, but to look upon the future with hope. When Elenor walked through the door of our shared office space on that unusually warm September day, I found yet another reason to feel joy in a world I had not long since reluctantly chosen to join.

She too had not been expecting to find love that day; only to commission our services to build her a website for her own budding venture. Of course, it took me some time, and a great deal of encouragement from my friends to gather the courage to suggest we take things beyond a business relationship. This would also not take place until the said business was behind us, as I would not overstep until the work had reached its end. I could waffle on for hours about her beautiful, beaming smile, twinkling, deep brown eyes, glowing dark skin, and thick, wavy hair, but again, this is not necessary. The only thing of relevance is that I loved her, perhaps from that very first moment the wind from the open doorway tussled her hair while she fought to control it, accompanied by a genuine giggle.

Within six months, we married, and after another year, we were to be parents. We may indeed have rushed things, just a bit, but we knew this was real. I had never imagined such happiness could exist in a world that left me begging for the sweet release of death in my youth. Of course, it’s during those happier times when we find the ground crumbling beneath our feet. Now, I would imagine, that whoever may still be reading along at this point may be questioning why a story claiming to be one of the horrors would waste so much time touching on the brief moments of happiness. In addition, I would think many of you may find your eyes rolling at what comes next.

Yes, everything I have presented you with so far, is not particularly difficult to believe, thus lending credence to the idea that this is no horror story. Perhaps this genre is more defined by events that stretch the boundaries of what is real while blending them more with what cannot be. Still, I do believe I shall have to request that you perhaps take a little bit on faith as I continue, though you surely have no reason to trust my words. Some may have more of a clear understanding of the occurrences I will be sharing soon, though I cannot speak as to whether or not any such person may come to read this. Once my tale has come to a close, I do not doubt that many who may have looked upon these words, will think of them as no more than the ramblings of a madman. In truth, I cannot deny this may very well be the case, though I still vividly remember every single detail.

Elenor and I had chosen to spend the weekend in Brighton, as we were both fond of the beach, as well as the exemplary museums the city housed. It was mid-August. The sky was almost cloudless, and a more vibrant blue than I had ever before laid eyes upon. Of course, it could simply be that I hadn’t always paid attention to such wonders, as my outlook had always leaned more towards the negative. My lovely wife was still within her initial months of pregnancy, though she had experienced some weeks of crippling nausea. None of these ailments affected her beautiful glow as we sat upon the pebbled ground with the waves rushing across and between our toes.

As we gazed upon one another, my heart still raced ever so slightly, while my stomach nervously tremored. Regardless of how used to her wonderful company I had grown, I still felt like little more than a stuttering schoolboy when I stared into her glinting eyes. Perhaps it was due to that very affliction that I was not distracted by the alarmed wails of those others we shared the beachfront with at the time. It wasn’t until my beautiful wife cut her glare upwards while allowing her jaw to droop ever so slightly, that I took note of the furious, rippling orange which had consumed the vibrant blue of the sky above.

I watched in horror as Eleanor’s gorgeous face contorted as the terror took hold of her. Within mere moments, the rampaging flame erupted through the sky, almost immediately consuming the buildings which lined the rear of the beach. I wrapped my arms around my love; pulling her deeper into the water in hopes of escaping the certainty of a swift demise, though my actions caused her far more suffering than if I had allowed her to turn to the same pillars of ash which stood in place of those others we had shared the beach with that day. I was forced to bear witness to the skin upon her face, bubbling and splitting as the water around us came to a sudden boil. I looked on in horror as her flesh shrank away, while she squealed out in a sound I will not soon forget; one filled with agonizing horror, as the meaty tissue behind her skin quickly gave way to the reddened bone. I was only vaguely aware of my own body mimicking what I saw before me until my own eyes swelled and burst from within their sockets.

When I awakened in the same bed I had shared with my loving wife only days before that ill-fated trip, I was certain I had once again fallen victim to a vivid night terror during my slumber. Though the memories would not fade from behind my eyelids as any normal flight of fancy the world of dreams may present me with, it was certain to me these events could not have transpired, as I looked upon the unscorched land beyond my window. It wasn’t until the reality of what had truly occurred hit me, that I felt myself spiraling into despair as I had so many times before.

Puzzled by the fact that my beloved Elenor did not lay beside me in our bed, I placed a call to the number I had committed to memory, as her name no longer greeted me from my list of contacts. The voice which spoke from the receiver was not that of my lovely wife, but of a man who was confused by my inquiry about the location of my love. After my assumption I had perhaps misdialed, I placed the call a second time, to find the same individual on the other end. I quickly grew more frenzied, while the panic overcame me.

I fled from the home in which I knew myself to live with my wife. I sped to the office in time to meet my partners reporting for the day’s workload. I practically interrogated the two; pleading with them to grant me any knowledge they may have of my wife’s whereabouts, though there was no logical reason to assume they would have any answers to give. They were genuinely puzzled by my inquisition, as they assured me there was no such person; none that they had ever laid eyes on, anyway. As my befuddlement grew, so did my rage. I scorned my friends for the only answers they had to give before I sped away from the office towards the home of my in-laws. After they denied ever parenting a child, as well as having never laid eyes on me, I continued my descent into madness.

Days turned to weeks as I plummeted further into despair, once more finding no desire to leave the comfort of the bed I once shared with another. I knew she was real! I ached so badly to wake from the nightmare my existence had again become. Eventually, after my filth and misery had forced me to break free from my self-induced cocoon, I made a meager attempt to clean myself up, before walking the streets of the city for hours to distract me from my broken heart. As my body grew weaker and my feet throbbed from the countless minutes which had trickled by since I began my aimless wandering, I finally gave in to the stabbing in my chest; dropping to my knees in the middle of the crowded sidewalk.

I have no way of knowing how long I knelt on the rough concrete, wailing out from the sheer exhausting agony of losing the one thing which had finally given meaning to my miserable life while begging the gods to grant me answers to why I could not be allowed to maintain this one, simple thing when I felt a hand wrap its weathered fingers around my shoulder.

“What’s the matter, kid?”

I cut my moistened eyes up to meet those of the elderly man who looked down at me with concern etched into his face.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” I replied, suddenly feeling shame for the spectacle I was making of myself amongst the denizens of the city.

“How ’bout you tell me anyway,” he said, holding his other hand out to assist me in getting back to my trembling feet.

The genuine compassion he wore upon his face, inspired me to take his hand in mine before we shared the burden of lifting me from the hardened ground beneath my knees. I staggered, slightly, as my head spun from the oxygen regulating my brain back to something of a default setting, but as I finally stood level with the man who had volunteered to listen to the story of what led me to that state, I couldn’t help but feel a warmth grow within me once more.

We walked together for a time and, though I would estimate the man to have likely reached his eighth decade of life on this earth, it was he who held onto me to prevent my still shivering extremities from allowing me to fall back to the concrete ground. He did not speak a word as I spilled the words from my lips, covering the entire history of my life as I have recounted it to you through these paragraphs. His compassionate expression did not waver in the slightest, even through my recollection of the sudden world-ending catastrophe which had claimed the very existence of the woman I loved with my whole heart and tormented soul. The words he spoke after I finished my tale were not what I expected to hear.

“You ain’t the only one who remembers it, kid.”

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Not only did this practically cause my heart to skip several beats, as I had begun to convince myself that all of this madness had been a manifestation of my traumatized mind, but it also awoke something of a ray of hope within me. I just stared with wide, unblinking eyes as he continued.

“Can’t rightly say why there’s so few that remembers these things. Hell, I can’t even imagine why any of us do, for that matter.”

Though I had lost the one shining light in my life, I still felt my skin shudder; not from the pain of what I had lost, though that still haunts me to this day, but the fact I may not be alone after all.

“It was prob’ly seventy-three the first time I died… Vietnam. Still remember every second of it too.”

He glared off into the distance as he spoke, wearing the same expression my weary eyes had shown me in the mirror, many times before.

“Always assumed a land mine would be quick, ‘fore that day. Shoulda been payin’ more attention, tell you the truth. I felt my leg blow apart before the shrapnel ripped into my guts. Ain’t never felt pain like that before then. Soon as what was left of me hit the ground, the lights went out. Maybe seconds later, it was like someone just cut the switch back on!”

His eyes were wide, while his lower lip quivered ever so slightly. He paused for a moment, both in speech and movement. He still had his hand on my back, so I stopped in place as he did. I suppose I was not yet ready to allow the warmth of his hand to separate from my still trembling back. It’s almost difficult to explain the comfort that one simple thing brought me, as well as the kindred spirit whose company I shared.

“Course, I was still in the war when I woke back up. Didn’t nothin’ seem to change, other than the fact I wasn’t dead no more. Two more times I fell into the darkness before I finally shipped back to my home in Georgia. One bayonet to the chest, and a grenade I threw myself on to protect the ones I was with. Can’t say which one took my Suzie away from me, but it was like she’d never been born when I got back home.”

“You lost someone too!?” I asked, feeling more shocked at this new revelation.

“She was only the first, kid,” he gave me a forced half-smile, while a tear trickled from his left eye.

“Why?” I asked. “Why does this happen?”

He just gazed into my eyes for a moment, before gesturing with a tilt of the head for me to follow him to the park bench which sat to the side of the pathway we had been traversing. We sat beside each other, while I still glared into his time-worn face, almost mesmerized by the man who appeared to have seen far more pain in life than I. He reached into the pocket inside his coat, before pulling a wrinkled cigarette pack from within. He tapped it on his leg a few times, before unwinding the transparent plastic seal from the top. He flicked the bottom of the pack with his fingers, ejecting the tip of three tan-colored filters to varying heights. He pulled the one protruding furthest from the others, before slipping it between his lips.

It was doubtlessly a dance his hands had performed countless times over the passage of the decades, as his absent eyes gazed into the night sky while his muscle memory took control of the task. As the small flame ignited from the tip of the wooden match, to light the far end of the cigarette to a soft, orange glow, I felt tension course through my bones as my mind flashed back to the solar flare which had scorched the earth only weeks before. The stranger inhaled deeply, before allowing the thick plume to drift out into the light wind. He glanced towards me, giving me a far more natural and sincere smile than the last.

“I remember the fire too, kid.”

I allowed fresh tears to stream from my eyes again as we looked at one another. Clearly, he could relate to the burdens I had carried for so long, and that alone brought me a peace I had not yet known.

“I s’pose I got lucky this time. Soon as I saw the sky light up, I looked at my Bessie, sure this was gonna be the last time I saw her. Felt my whole body smile when I woke up next to her after the lights came back on.”

He wrapped his arm around me. I allowed him to pull me closer; to rest my weary head on his shoulder for a time.

“I’m so sorry yours wasn’t here waitin’ for you, kid. Been there myself more times than I can rightly say.”

“What is the point of existence if we can’t hold on to what we love,” I said, my voice quivering while his jacket moistened from the steady flow of tears dripping from my cheek.

“Ain’t got no choice, really. Near as I can figure, this is just the way things work.”

“So, we’re meant to endure this!?” I asked, feeling hopelessness grip me once more.

“Can’t say why some remember and others don’t, but my preacher, back home, always said the soul was immortal. Way I see it, most folks ain’t got no idea how many times they died over the course of their lives. They just wake up somewheres new, with memories that came with it. In their mind, they ain’t never been nowheres else, so they don’t remember what they had before. Hell, could be most others just die the normal way, as God intended, and we’re the ‘lucky few’,” he chuckled, though his eyes still blankly stared out into the world before him.

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We sat in silence for a time; both of us reflecting on times gone by while gazing into the uncertainty of what lies ahead. Though the logic behind his words did seem rational, if somewhat outlandish theory, I couldn’t help but wonder about another aspect to this, though it took me some time to figure out the best way to phrase my question.

“So, if our consciousness just transfers to another version of ourselves in a different reality,” I asked, both curious and reluctant at the same time, “do we just keep aging?”

I felt almost guilty laying this on his lap, as he was far more advanced in years than I, and I had no desire to inadvertently hurt his feelings by implying he was nearing the end of his journey, so to speak. When the laughter erupted from him, I cannot say I wasn’t a little surprised, though somewhat inspired to share his sudden levity.

“Couldn’t tell ya, kid,” he said, still chuckling while wiping the jovial tears from his eyes, “maybe after the body finally gives out, maybe then you get to move on to one of them other places they talk about in the books. Could be we all got a timer we gotta let run out before we can see what comes after.”

Once more, we sat quietly, sharing the light breeze the night air cast upon us. I can’t even know how long we sat on that bench, just staring out across the world which was slowly falling to rest. As the lights from the buildings and homes went dark around us, the man clapped his hand on my leg.

“I’d better get goin’, kid. My Bessie gonna get herself in a fluster if I stay gone much longer.”

As he lifted himself to his feet, he gave a slight moan in conjunction with the popping and creaking of the bones in his legs and back. He looked out to the path ahead, which I assumed would lead him back to his home. Before he started to saunter away from me, he began to speak one last time, without turning to face me.

“Can’t say why, but the birds always know when the end is comin’.”

I just stared at the thin white hair across the back of his head, softly blowing in the subtle wind.

“You see ’em cluster and make for the west, ain’t long after that.”

He barely moved as he spoke these final words to me. It almost felt as though he was only vaguely aware he was sharing these thoughts with me.

“I’ll be eighty-seven this time next week. I’ve seen the world end a total of three times over those years, and the birds always do the same thing. Don’t know how they know it’s comin’, but they always do.”

He finally turned back to face me, with a somewhat friendly smile, but a certain melancholy behind his eyes.

“Take care of yerself, kid. See you on the other side.”

With that, he gave me a wink, before strolling away from me; to be consumed by the darkness surrounding the bench upon which I still sat.

Though I never got the old man’s name, nor laid eyes on him again, I recognized his picture in the newspaper a year or so later. The obituary read that he had died due to advanced cancer which had consumed his body from the inside out. I can’t help but wonder if he still awakened the following day; hopefully next to his loving wife, or if he finally found what lies beyond this world and its infinite clones.

Since that meeting with the elderly man; after almost careening into an abyss from which I would have surely never escaped, I chose to make an effort to not only endure this endless life but to perhaps enjoy it for what it is. Though I may never again find my beloved Elenor, I did begin seeing someone new. Kathleen is a truly incredible woman and though I cherish each and every moment we spend together, I will not allow our relationship to advance as its predecessor did. Though my future is far more uncertain than most, I will never allow myself to entertain the notion that anything can last.

As I finally come to the end of my tale, though my life has had more than its share of very personal horrors, I would imagine mine would not necessarily fall under that category. Regardless of which genre is more suited to the story you may still find a little too far-fetched to believe to have taken place, I do appreciate you accompanying me on this journey through my history. Perhaps you will still see these words as little more than the ramblings of a disturbed mind. Of course, I cannot deny that may very well be the case, but I would ask that you take one small piece of advice from this:

Look to the skies from time to time. In recent weeks, I have noticed the birds forming unusual groupings. It may simply be that time of year, during which they feel the urge to migrate, but it could be something else entirely. Though there may be dark times ahead, fear not, my friends. Likely, you will not remember a thing.

Credit: William Rayne

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