"These children who come to you with their knives, they’re your children. I didn’t teach them, you did." - Charles Manson
I look to my side, expecting Veia to be there. She’s gone. Poof. How can that happen? It’s just Anna and I now, but that seems appropriate considering where we are.
“I’m scared,” she says timidly.
“Don’t be. He’s the one who should be scared.” I try to assure her, but the fear in her eyes reasonably remains.
“Wait for it. Wait for it.” S. chants repetitively. I know what he means. “Wait for it. And…dun, dun, DUN!” He shrieks with unbearable intensity as the vile thing comes into view. There it is. There the terrible fucking thing is. I feel a blast of pure epinephrine surge through my veins, then another as Anna crashes into me and grabs onto my side. She’s holding on for dear life. It is the house, his house, the house that infects my dreams in ways that no other place ever could.
It was a white two story house, about a hundred years ago. Dirt and grime now coat the place’s entire exterior. It was built at the start of the twentieth century and was apparently never repainted. I suppose I’d call its current color a moldy brownish grey. This is it. This is definitely it. It has been so long since I’ve set foot here. I had almost convinced myself that this house only existed in a dream, and I imagined it all as part of a dark and demented delusion. I wish that were the case, but unfortunately it is not. This is all so very real.
“You’re not my children! You’re not my children!” I can still hear my dead mother screaming. She tries to murder her own offspring because of their ‘impurity’. My father is only a front lawn and a door away from me. The realization is sickly shocking, torturously terrifying.
“Not nearly as terrifying as you, Mister Terrible.” I hope Shadowshade is right.
Thwack! I hear and see it simultaneously. The flimsy screen door attached to the front of the house slams shut and nearly flies off its hinges. A larger wooden door closes behind it. It’s him, it has to be. He saw me coming. I’ve already lost the element of surprise. Did he recognize me? Maybe he simply thinks that a random door-to-door salesman has come for an unwanted visit. Either way, I’m still going inside. This is what I’ve been waiting for.
I take Anna by the hand and we walk across the mostly dead grass that covers Father’s front yard. He is “Father” instead of “Daddy” because I don’t want to be reminded of his game. The place looks eerie, dilapidated, and I might’ve thought it was abandoned if the rusty little screen door wouldn’t have just slammed so aggressively. As we near the door, the old wooden steps creakily moan and groan underneath our feet. They’re shakily struggling to keep from giving way.
A full ash tray sits smoldering on the banister of the porch, a sign that he was just here. Behind it sits a rickety looking old chair that bears the same moldy brownish grey color as the house. Father smokes Marlboro Reds: nicotine powerhouses…but none are left for me. Shit. He’ll have more inside.
“Stay here.” I know that Anna doesn’t want to come in with me. I won’t force her. Knock. Knock. Knock. I wait for a moment, trying not to vomit pure anticipation onto the front door. It swings wide open. Chink-chink! ‘Tis the happy sound of a twelve-gauge shotgun, one that I am now staring down both barrels of. This isn’t good.
“Boy oh boy, boy! You’ve come home to see your daddy? Why don’t you come on inside?” Father is much older than he was before, which I suppose was to be expected. A decade tends to age people. His once auburn hair is greying and thin, his rough lifestyle reveals itself upon his worn face. He’s well into his forties.
The man stares down at me with menacing maniacal bloodshot eyes. He still has that tobacco, beer and body odor smell that I remember so well. He motions with the gun for me to come inside, thankfully not noticing little Anna crouching in terror on the porch behind me. Thwack! He slams the front door shut behind us.
“Why don’t you have yourself a seat on the couch over here.” He leads me into the little living room that I’ve only seen once before. I saw it on the night that I ran away with Anna.
The carpet in here is old, dirty, and probably hasn’t been vacuumed in years. It’s peeling off of the cement floor in a multitude of places and is stained all over with a wide variety of mystery fluids, as is everything else in the room. The only things around me are a cloth recliner, a little couch and coffee table, and an outdated TV sitting atop a small oak chest. It is turned on.
“Where’s your little sister? You two aren’t so close as you used to be, are ya? You sure ain’t fuckin’ her anymore. I saw what she said about you on the news, boy. I never thought my boy would grow up to be famous. ‘Ivan the Terrible’, whoo-wee! That’s what you’re callin’ yourself these days, isn’t it? Tristan is ‘Ivan’, the news lady said. You’re a cold-blooded killer. I knew it was you. I remember findin’ your poor momma after you and the little bitch ran off.
“She tried to kill us!”
“And she should’ve done the job right! Now I’m gonna have to do it myself. I called 9-1-1 already, told ‘em I saw you outside. They’re on the way right now, and I’m deliverin’ ya to ‘em in a body bag. I’m showin’ you mercy, you know that? They’d do far worse than kill ya! Say thank you to your daddy.” He aims the shotgun at my face.
“Thanks, dad.” I glance over at the TV in front of me. There’s a porno playing with the sound turned off. A middle-aged man is fucking a young blonde girl who’s dressed like a cheerleader. It seems like the only position they’ve ever heard of is missionary. Ho-hum, this video is! Ho-hum, I say! I expected Father to be into something a little kinkier. Maybe the guy was supposed to be her father, but that still wouldn’t make it as eccentric as what I thought it would be. I remember what he did to Anna. I remember what he did to me.
“Remember when we used to play daddy upstairs?” Can he read my mind?
“Patience friend, patience.” S. is whispering his wispy wisps into my head again, so I wait. Something is coming.
“It was more fun to play with Anna than it was with you. She was fresher, sweeter, so innocent…I can almost smell her now.” I will not grace that comment with an answer. “You want a drink?” His stringy shoulder-length hair dangles messily across his face. He’s wearing only a pair of stained plaid boxers, making it no secret that he has acquired a substantial amount of flabbiness.
“Dear old daddy’s gonna get ya one last drink before he sends ya to your momma. See? I’m a kind man! I’ll be right back. Make sure ya don’t move around too much. If you so much as twiddly-fiddle your thumbs, I’ll be back in a jiffy to blow your sorry ass away faster than you can say ‘fuck me daddy’!” He chuckles at this…in his mind, he’s quite the comedian. He walks off into the kitchen. I assume he’s going to bring me something alcoholic. His flab jiggly-wiggles and wiggly-jiggles disgustingly as he trots along.
“Now,” Shadowshade speaks. I stand up and begin to follow Father into the kitchen, as quietly as I can. I pull the pistol from my pocket and pull the hammer back. It’s ready to fire. Neither one of us will be coming out of this house alive.
Just before I round the corner connecting the living room and kitchen to the front entrance, I hear the clink! of a beer. He’s grabbing one from the fridge. Thump. The refrigerator door closes shut. Damn it, he’s probably already coming back this way. I’m nearly to the kitchen; it’s too late to turn back now. I’m ready. It is time.
Am I really here? Usually if I’m somewhere that I’d rather not be, I’ll go somewhere else in my head. This is where I learned how to do it. This is the man who first inspired me to dissociate. I quickly raise the gun. I am here. This is real. This has to happen.
I turn the corner and there he is, staring right at me. The beer in his hand drops to the floor and shatters all over the linoleum floor, sounding like a bathroom mirror being destroyed by an angry teen. We fire our weapons simultaneously. The blasts rocket through the air with a boom that my eardrums are lucky to survive. He falls back and the shotgun falls from his hands. Clunk. It falls to the glass-covered floor and its lead tears apart the wall beside me. Some of it bites into my shoulder and I’m blown backward. I hardly feel it, because this isn’t happening. I don’t have to believe that I’m here if I don’t want to.
But I am…the sting is awfully unfriendly. I guess one should expect unfriendliness from a shotgun blast. I quickly stand and notice that he’s trying to do the same, so I charge at him in fury! Maybe I can reach him before he retrieves the weapon.
“Fucking little shit! I should’ve killed ya when you were a boy. I was just havin’ too much fun with that little body of yours.” We collide and slam into the floor, both struggling to gain the upper hand. He pushes me off of him and I rise to my feet before crashing right into the kitchen counter. Crunch.
I am somewhere else. I’m on a beach in the Caribbean. I’m sipping on my third margarita, listening to the waves as they lick the sand from the shore…no I’m not. I’m here in Father’s house. A very convenient set of knives is sitting on the counter next to me. Could this be my deux ex machina? Could this be my god machine, come to save me? I grab a steak knife and dive at him again. He makes a move for the shotgun. One shell is still left inside. That’s all he needs. His hand finds the butt of the gun and begins to lift it up, but my knife stabs through and pins Daddy’s hand the floor.
“Motherfucker!” He bashes my jaw with his free fist and I stagger sideways, landing right next to the shotgun. Could this be my deux ex machina? I haven’t lost hope. I snatch it up, cock it, then try to stand while aiming it at his bulging eyes. He rips the knife out of his left hand with his right and sends blood spattering all around the room like a malfunctioning sprinkler head. We get up at the same time. The gun goes off. He stabs the knife into my chest, right into my scar that’s still there from Marcus stabbing me all those years ago…
“That’s what you get!” Marcus screams. The shotgun shell hits Father in the shoulder. He flies through the air until the fridge stops him, then slidey-slumps down onto the floor.
“God damn you, you little shit!” We’re both nearly finished now. I fall on my ass and try to crawl back toward the front of the house. Blood trickles out of the place where the knife is stuck in my chest. I won’t pull it out. If I do, I’ll bleed out in less than a minute. Father struggles to his feet and grabs another knife from atop the kitchen counter. The man is relentless! His shoulder is practically severed from his body, and looks sort of like mangled bleeding Hamburger Helper. Yummy. “One pound, one pan, one happy family.”
My hand finds the .38 Special that Dee sent me in the mail before he rushes me again. Daddy was making a foolish decision. I pick it up with great speed and raise it level with his head. SHPOW! SHPOW! SHPOW! SHPOW! SHPOW! I fire five times and hit my target twice. He falls directly on top of me. The knife in his hand falls with him and slices into my fucking arm. I immediately tear the thing out and push him off of me. Somehow I manage to stand to my wibbly-wobbly feet.
My vision disappears when I stand, but it soon comes back again. That is quite a surprise. Father’s brain now decorates the wall in front of me. That’s a far more fantastic surprise! He’s dead at last! Now I can finally die in peace, which I will inevitably do in just a moment. I’m ready now. I’m ready to die. The second my father’s brains flew out of his skull, the last item on my bucket list was completed.
Seven times, seven times I’ve killed deliberately. Seven times I’ve been fully responsible for the death of another human being. This is the number of the Christian God, so I hear. More importantly, it’s my unlucky number. I suppose I’ve committed a bit of sacrilege. Icing on the cake...and seven was certainly unlucky for those who died at my hand. What a special number indeed.
I am completely drenched in blood, much of which is my own. Soon a S.W.A.T. team will be here to finish me off, or something like that. I amble back into the kitchen and open the fridge. There’s more than enough beer left. I shall have my last drink after all! Clink. I pull a bottle of Budweiser out of its chilly resting place and go back to Daddy’s corpse. Pop! Fizzz. I love the sound of an opening beer bottle, when all of the air pressure runs away at once. It’s music to my dying ears.
I bend down next to him and dig through his pockets. Jackpot. There’s a pack with two Marlboro Reds still inside and a little green Bic lighter. I don’t have time to smoke them individually. I’ll smoke them both at once. I chug the beer like a frat boy and walk up the stairs to the second floor. It’s a difficult climb. I’m losing too much fucking blood…
“Forgot something, didn’t you?” S. reminds me. The empty bottle slips from my hands and rolie-bumps down the stairs. I put the cigarettes and lighter into the pocket with my flash drive.
He’s right. I walk back down the stairs and return with the .38 in my hand. I have three bullets left. I loaded it with eight. The second climb up the stairs is much harder than the first. I’m far dizzier now, but I’ve always been one determined son of a bitch. I stumble and fall when I reach the top, then pull myself into a sitting position.
I place the gun down on the dirty carpet next to me and pull the lighter and cigarettes from my pocket. Flick. Flick. I flick my Bic. My Bic I flick…then I inhale. Ah, sweet nicotine! I toss the lighter down the stairs, sending it chasing after the glass bottle. I won’t need it anymore. I hold the smoldering cigarettes in my left hand and retrieve the gun with my right. Now I try to stand.
Everything goes black all over again, and I’m back on my ass by the time I can see. I’ll never stand on my feet again. I scoot across the second story floor on my ass, like a baby, past a bathroom and then up to a closed door. It’s…the door…I reach up with the cigarette hand, holding them in my mouth. The doorknob is ice-cold. I turn it slowly, and after a moment it opens to welcome me like a long lost friend. Can this room really be called a friend?
“Welcome home, friend.” S. is glad to be here. In the corner of the room, near the ceiling, there is a light. It is the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen. Sometimes it shines brightly through the square glass hole near the top of the wall and other times vanishes completely, only to appear once again after some time has passed. I know what this light is. Mother said that it is called the sun, and that it watches over us from over a million miles away. That little stream of light falls upon the floor like a golden laser beam. Here I am. This is it. This is the room. My room. Anna’s room. It’s real after all, not just a place from my nightmares. All of it was real. All of it was real…
I scoot all the way back into my childhood, fighting to keep my drowsy eyes open. There are still books on the floor in here. Father never took the time to pick them up. In the center of the room lies The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Wherever I go, there it is, the same fly on the wall that haunts my dreams. It is both a comfort and a curse.
This is the very same copy that I used to watch Anna read. I loved to watch her. She’s here now, and walks by me to read it. Her lips move faintly as she mouths the words on the page. I watch her carefully and learn exactly where she is in the book. I have read it many times.
“Poke!” She giddily shouts as she stands up and wanders over to me. One of her little fingers presses into my arm through my shirtsleeve. “You did it, Tristan! Daddy’s dead! He’s really dead! He can’t hurt us anymore.”
“You’re right, my dear, he certainly can’t.” I’m trying my best to hold on to consciousness.
“And our book, it’s still here!” She walks back to it and snatches it up, then sits crisscross applesauce right in front of me.
“He’s gone…” I assure her again.
“Mhm! Mhm! Now we can go to the moon. No one will hurt us there. We can be happy. We can sing and laugh. It’ll be just you and me, together in outer space.”
“And the moon is made of cheese, Anna. We’ll never go hungry.”
“Never ever.” She coos happily and gives me a blissful kiss. It’s just like the ones she gave me the last time we were here.
“It’ll be just like we always wanted.” Tears roll down my cheeks. “Just like we always wanted…” Someone else is now in the room with us. Who could it be? The young boy startles me, catching me off-guard. His hair is the same hair color as Anna’s and his eyes and skin is the same color as mine. She doesn’t seem to notice him as he sits down next to us. Am I supposed to know who this is?
“Well, well.” Shadowshade apparently recognizes the boy, the boy who is only a year younger than his sister.
“Ivan the Terrible,” the child says. He stares knowingly into my eyes. His eyes… they’re mine. We’re one and the same.
“Tristan?” I ask.
“Mhm. Is he really dead? Is Father really dead?”
“He’s quite dead.” The room begins to spin. I am a child’s toy, spinning around idly on a mobile. I am blown around gently by a current from the AC vent.
“I’m sorry.” Why is he sorry?
“What? Why?” He has nothing to be sorry for. Not yet. He’s still young.
“I’m sorry that everything happened the way that it did. I’m sorry that you, Ivan, had to take my place. I’m sorry I wasn’t strong enough to do it myself…”
“Don’t be sorry. Ivan is the only one who could do what I’ve done. You were broken. Your era had to come to an end. C’est la vie, little me. If they wouldn’t have burned you to ashes, I could never have risen from them. Destruction is a form of creation, you know. I was born from your dying soul, from your broken heart and mind. It was necessary.” He looks at me with sadness in his eyes, a sadness that I have long since quarantined to the deepest recesses of my psyche.
“I just wish that it wasn’t necessary. I wish we could live in a world that wasn’t cruel enough to create people like you and destroy people like me, where the Products wouldn’t have to fight for anything.”
“That world is what we fight for. It will come, one day, if enough of us put forth the effort to make it into a reality.”
“Do you think that the city of dreams will be able to make that happen? The city where so many things are said, so many things are planned, then nothing really happens?”
“Well, Tristan, I’ve written something. I’ve written a book. It is my final call to arms. It’s our book: Product of Society. I did more than dream. We can hope that others will see and do the same, can’t we?”
“I guess so,” he says sheepishly. He was always sort of sheepish. I’ve almost forgotten.
“They will see. They will see that they can follow their hearts instead of the voices that fill their ears with poison. Will they choose to take action? That remains to be seen. Those who do will likely be persecuted, but I’ve found that persecution is but a small price to pay for freedom. It is a small price to pay to live life as something other than a slave. It’s a small price to pay to be able to serve oneself and one’s friends, rather than greedy masters who view us as organic machines that are good for nothing but production.”
“And so we’ve come full circle.” Shadowshade’s voice booms in the gloom. “The three fathers of the movement have come together. They’re finally all in one place.” Now I’m really confused. S. somehow always manages to have that effect on me. “You haven’t pieced the puzzle together yet? Tristan is the boy. Ivan is the man, the Product of Society. Yours truly is the spirit, the avant-garde emeritus, the consigliere, if you will. The boy became the man. What do you think the man will become? You’re a bright one. Use what’s in between your ears.”
“Are you saying that I will become a shadowshade?”
“Ah!” He exclaims with glee. “Not simply a shadowshade, friend. The Shadowshade. We’re sort of a trinity, you see.”
“How can that be? How is that possible?” I’ve never been one for believing that my existence will continue after I die. It has always seemed like a rather superstitious concept to me.
“It’s simple. You said it only a moment ago to the boy here. You’ve finished your book, your story. It will be read. Your thoughts, Veia’s thoughts, Mal, Vera, Dee, Scéléra…all of your thoughts and ideas shall live on in the minds of those who see and hear them. Your voices will live on in their minds, affecting the shape of the future.
“Take the Christians, for example. They have been rather successful with this, perhaps unfortunately. They do not lie when they claim that Jesus Christ is still alive. He lives on inside of them. His words and ideas live on in their hearts and minds because of his story, because of his legacy. The same can be said for many others. Nietzsche, Socrates, Aristotle, Karl Marx, Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Edgar Allan Poe…the list goes on and on.
“Now there is Tristan, or Ivan the Terrible. Maybe you will become a voice that echoes inside of determined minds. You’ll become the Shadowshade, and perhaps your whispers will be strong enough to transform those who hear them. Maybe your words will carry the strength to lead the future world to a freedom it does not know today, to acceptance of individuality, approval of personal choice. Perhaps in death you will part the sea for your Israelites, so to speak. You will be the Shadowshade. You will guide timid Tristans along the path to revolutionary Ivanhood, just as I’ve done for you.” It does make sense.
“But now, friend, I must depart. It’s been quite grand, Sir Terrible. Esmerelda! My day’s work is done! Make me a martini as dry as the Sahara! Two of them! It’s been a long one.” S. is gone, and my eyesight is not far behind him. Everything around me seems to have taken on a colorless greyish hue. I’m falling…falling…at peace… unafraid…
“Ivan.” The boy in front of me tries to take hold of my attention before I slip away. He’s still here. He hasn’t yet heard the voice of Shadowshade. It isn’t his time yet.
“Yes?” My voice is only a whisper.
“I have to go now. Anna needs me.” I don’t have it in me to tell him that her need for him is only temporary. It will be bludgeoned away by those who will convince her to adapt to the dogmatic world outside.
“I’m going with him too.” Anna finally notices her little brother’s presence. Though I am her brother too, I’m certainly not little anymore. I wonder what it is like to be her at this moment. Tristan and Ivan being here together must be truly confounding.
Tristan then takes her by the hand, The Very Hungry Caterpillar in the other, and together they walk into the golden beam of light. They disappear through the little hole near the top of the wall, like apparitions ascending to Olympus. They’ll follow the trail of golden light all the way back to the sun. Soon I will join them.
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk-thunk. Thunkity-thunk. Car doors slam and wham-blam outside. There are ten of them, maybe twenty. The hounds of Doctor Frankenstein have finally come to take his monster away. They won’t get the fight they’ve come for. I am but a half-conscious bleeding almost-corpse. Even my cigarettes are depleted. I put them out on the carpet next to me. I’m alone now. Little Anna and Tristan are gone. S. is gone. I’m gone too, for the most part. The men who now race across the yard toward the front door will be able to keep me alive.
I’ll be rushed to the nearest emergency room and placed in critical condition. They’ll want to question me: the detectives, the court, the psychologists…I’ll be an excellent case study, me and my nonconforming non-submissive ‘oh so dangerous’ criminal mind. They’ll have a fucking field day at my expense. I’ll be beaten, tortured, degraded, spat on and humiliated, then thrown down into a deep dark hole for the rest of my pitiful life. I’ll never see the sun again, not even through a little hole near the top of the wall. There will be no golden laser beam of sunlight left for me.
It will make the general public and those who control their opinions all so very happy. They’ll be happy to see me suffer, for I did not do as I was told. No. It will not happen quite like that. Not today, America. Not today. The legalists will not get their rocks off on my face this day. I can’t fight them off any longer, but I can sure as hell spit when they tell me to swallow. There is a reason why I didn’t unload my pistol into Daddy today, despite the fact that it would have given me tremendous pleasure to blast the corpse a few more times.
They’ll never get to question me. They’ll never get the information that is safely locked away inside my mind. They’ll never have the pleasure of beating me or spitting in my face. They’ll never get to cheer incessantly as I’m handed down a life sentence on their national boob tube channels. I won’t let them watch me wither away in morbid agony.
My time has come, and I am ready. I’m ready for the reporters to call me a villain. They do not understand why what I have done was necessary…it was all necessary, apart from the one who I misguidedly killed when I naively believed their monstrously critical illustrations. They murdered the politician. He said it himself. He didn’t blame me.
They’ll surely slander me, but let them. I have fulfilled my intentions. I know why I’ve done what I’ve done. I am not ashamed. I am the only one who I require acceptance from, and I have earned it. My work is complete. I am ready.
My hand feebly crawls across the carpet in search of the gun’s ridged handle. I can hardly feel it while I pick it up off of the ground. It is weightless, unreal, just like everything else. I turn around and face the doorway. I can hardly see out into the hallway. They’ll come from the top of the stairs…they’ll be here soon. I’ll be gone by the time they get to me. I take the P.O.S. flash drive out of my pocket and set it down beside me.
Thunk! Bunk! Bonk! Thwack! Shwack! The sound of aggressive knocking echoes from downstairs, followed by splintering wood. The door has been kicked open. I raise the gun and open my mouth, then shove the muzzle inside. It should be cold, shouldn’t it? It isn’t. I’m beyond the point of being able to distinguish such things as temperature.
“Fuck it! The man down here’s dead! Where the hell is that sick bastard?”
“I’m taking the stairs!” Here they come. I’m so scared. Come and get me, boys. Come and get me. The only sound I hear is my heart pounding in my ears. Bubump. Bubump. I glance down at the floor…something green and fuzzy woodles around next to me, munching away at the carpet.
“Oh! Hi there, Mister Caterpillar. You’re very hungry today, I see. Munchy-munch, munch-munch, Mister Munchy Muncher. Munch away.” He does, but I hardly notice. Even the Hungry Caterpillar munching the carpet next to you doesn’t really seem important when you’re seconds away from death. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. Here comes G.I. fucking Joe, running up the stairs toward me like a mindless zealot.
Asshole. Words can no longer come from my mouth. My voice has departed. You only want your damn paycheck and accolades, and maybe to win a few points for a ‘greater good’ that doesn’t even exist. There he is. He’s done it! He made it to the top of the stairs! Give the man his medal. He’s just a dark blobby shadow in my failing vision.
“Fuck it!” Poor bastard, he doesn’t sound very happy. He darts toward me with all of the strength that his powerful legs can muster, trying so desperately to tackle me to the ground before I can pull the trigger. I like this. I want him to be desperate for what he cannot have. It’s kind of erotic. My hand tightens its grip, which seems kind of erotic too.
“I am not Christ. I will not be willingly crucified.” I somehow manage to voice my final words. I pull the trigger in. I’m falling…falling…at peace…unafraid…
“I love you,” Veia’s says. That’s good. I love her too. Blobby Man is gone now. I expect the sound of the gun to be the last thing I ever hear, but I never hear it. It doesn’t register in my mind. It all happens too fast. Special Agent whatever-the-fuck his name is must be terribly disappointed, for the gun goes off and my grey matter splatters across the room. It gets all over my childhood prison, which really seems fitting. Some of it falls directly into the beam of light. Some of it splishy-splashes G.I. Joe in his face…my final act of black comedy. Sir Blob was only an arm’s length away.
Sorry, almost had me. No promotion for you. You can’t have me, Blobby Man. They can’t have me. I’m already gone. All that remains for me is the silent serenity of nothingness, the soundless darkness of the void.