The desire to live
The temptation of death
Succumb to one or be
Out of the shadows
A beast emerges.
I wake to darkness.
Hello. I was wondering when you would come.
The world is shifting, in and out, lines between reality and devastation blurring. “Am I alive?”
“Is this a dream? Or am I dead?”
Must one exist without the other? Do the dead not dream?
“Not sure. I’ve never been dead before.” I think I should be frustrated at the vague responses, but everything feels numb inside. Perhaps I have drowned, and the water has washed out my soul. If that’s even a real thing. “Can you save me?”
In the haze, I can hear the voice again.
Do you know who I am?
“Does it matter?”
Perhaps not. Does this mean you are accustomed to hearing unfamiliar voices in your head?
That is an odd thing to say because, in a way, I feel as if I know this voice. I have heard it whispering before. “I’ve heard you,” I say. “You’re not unfamiliar.”
Yes, I suppose I would have spoken one or two times. When you were a child.
I begin to get to my feet, but it doesn’t feel as if there is ground beneath me. “Where am I?”
Where all those who have been cheated from their lives go. My realm.
“Could…could you light a torch?”
You’re a brazen one, aren’t you?
“Perhaps. That’s amongst the names I have been called before.”
Wait a moment. All will be clear.
I obey and patiently wait. And suddenly, there it is. The cliffside. The sea. And…me. Still tied to the rock, head slumped, clothes stained with my own blood. Body swaying with the tide. And yet, here I am also, watching my dead body under the water.
“So I am dead.”
Part of you has died. It was necessary, for the rest to survive.
“Which part? My leg? My brain? Or my heart? There are some things a body can live without.” In the past, some rituals included amputation. And some, disembowelment. I know what kills a person. Susaka Alfa was creative when it came to methods of torture. And very educational, as I see now. But it’s possible I’m not dead. Some have survived the Ofre. My mother did.
The voice didn’t respond to my question. I breathe, and water rushes into my lungs. Yet I don’t suffocate. It’s unpleasant, but I’m not choking or drowning. I try to swim forward, but I’m restrained by something. I tug harder and feel my wrists chafe. I try to move my legs, but they, too, are bound. I am still tied up.
How would you feel about making a deal?
“What kind of deal?”
You let me stay. Advise you, perhaps. And I take away the pain.
Allow me to demonstrate.
Suddenly the water rushes in again. The air is squeezed out of my lungs. I begin to panic, writhing against my bonds, hysterically searching for air, but of course, there is none in the water. I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe—
Then I feel myself being hauled upwards as if some invisible rope has been tied around my waist. The water falls away, and I anticipate the heat of the sun on my face.
But it doesn’t come. It is colder outside of the water than in. It must be night; that is why the sun is not warming me. Then the world seems to fly in a sudden blur of motion. I feel fists hit my face, my arms, everywhere seems to be assaulted by wild, savage blows. I curl up, trying to shield my face as the pain erupts in every nerve of my body—
Then it stops, almost as quickly as it started.
I can help you. You won’t feel physical pain here, in my realm. This is a place beyond pain. You’ll visit every so often. I’ll keep you alive. Otherwise, you die. Quite simple.
I don’t hesitate in responding. “Do it. Take me away.” I’m not ready to die today. If there’s a way out, I’ll take it.
Nothing immediate happens. Then, slowly, the ground materializes beneath me.
The voice is no longer whispering.
A glow settles around me. Slowly, sounds begin to seep into my ears. Soft voices. The crackling of fire. Footsteps. I see the tents, thick from the skins of the beasts we hunt.
Then one particularly familiar voice, hoarse, croaks a single word. I hear it before I see his face.
The first thing I am aware of is the dampness of my torn clothes. I am completely soaked. My bones, frozen and brittle, feel as if they should break any moment. I’m shivering, and my heart is pounding so rapidly I think it might burst out of my chest.
His face is carved from stone, but I can see the hint of fear in his eyes. He doesn’t think I’m here. He thinks I’m a ghost, a resurrected spirit come to haunt him because I couldn’t fulfill my promise. I suppose it’s reassuring. He believed some of what I said to him.
“You…are you…” He tries to speak but falters. My father has never been very eloquent, and I can see he’s struggling to find words. He seems shocked, but then his eyes harden, freezing over with cold. “You’re not supposed to be here.”
I see his hand reaching for the knife, and he lunges toward me, almost in slow motion—
I’m faster. I kick him right in the stomach, and he keels over, flinching. Before he can shout out, I clamp a hand over his mouth with one hand and grab his wrist with the other. I give it a sharp jerk in a direction it’s not supposed to go. I hear a small crack, his grunt of pain, and the glinting knife falls to the ground.
Neither of us moves for a long time. My hand falls away from his mouth, and I know he won’t call for help. He knows if he does, I’ll cut his throat before he can utter a word. And I’m faced with a choice.
His eyes are wide, pleading. I’ve never seen him like this before. Helpless. At my mercy.
Mercy. Such an uncommon thing. He’s never shown any to me.
“Luirlan…” he rasps, his voice rattling. “You wouldn’t do this, would you? It is forbidden.”
Wouldn’t. He’s wrong there. I would. We both know I would. We both know the beast grows in both of us.
“What I said to you before…” I say, my voice so low it’s barely audible. “I wasn’t lying. I will kill you. They thought it was just a threat. That’s why they punished me. But it was the truth.”
The beseeching look on his face dies, replaced with one of resignation and determination. If this is the end, he’s going to try to do as much damage as he can before he goes. I feel his body begin to twitch, and then he’s laughing, a short, jerking laugh that ends in a string of feeble coughs.
“You’re going to kill me, are you?” He chuckles derisively some more. “Go ahead. Kill me. I have no doubt that you can. It won’t change anything. You have no hope of being anything more than you are. Bitter. Murderous. Callous. Shunned and avoided because they’re all scared of what you could do to them if it suited you. You’ll try to go on, live like everything’s normal, but eventually, that thing will get to you, and you’ll see yourself for what you really are and give up. Nothing and no one will be safe from you. In the end, Luirlan…” He trails off, grinning cruelly, his eyes cutting through me like daggers. “You’re just like me.”
He tries to sit up a little, but I push him back down forcefully, holding the knife closer to his throat. There is not even a slight tremor in my hands as I dig the tip in, right below his chin, enough to hurt but not deep enough to do any real damage. A bubble of blood swells up, bursts, trickles to the ground. But it doesn’t stop the venom in his voice.
“You’ll never be able to forget it, will you? Because you know. You know it was your fault she had to die.”
I gently loosen my grip on the beast inside, and its darkness washes through me. It snaps its jaws and I feel powerful, bloodthirsty. Suddenly it all comes rushing back. The flashes, the cold, the blood, and loudest of all, the voice.
He watches my face for a moment, then begins to laugh again.
The knife silences him, sinking deep into his throat. His laughter turns into gurgling wheezes as he drowns in his own blood. I feel the blood splatter my clothes, and I grin wider than I ever have before, and now I’m the one laughing.
I have never felt so alive.