They remained still, savoring the sweet, stale air as the gusts of the seas snuck inside. Even these airy currents acting as carriers for the scents of the corpses of cannibalized creatures were like the most enticing perfume to those who for so long smelled nothing. Many of them cursed themselves, bitterly recalling all of the years of squandered breaths that were not savored. There was a time where, despite logically knowing that it wouldn’t be the case, those who were breathing for the first time in many, many long and grief-filled decades believed their breaths would be infinite. They acted like they’d never die.
But they had died. They had died, painfully and bitterly.
But they were trying to not think about things like that.
…but over half a century of time had passed, over fifty years of nothing.
…spending some of those years simply staring at what to them was a ceiling, not knowing if it was the ceiling but knowing that they had a longing to stretch their limbs again.
….spending some of those years examining a single crack or spec of filth, determined with a unblinking eyeless gaze to find a new wonder to behold where none existed.
….spending some of those years remembering all of the flies and beetles that had ventured into their hollow eye sockets, and transforming these insects into grand mythic characters, fashioning backstories and epics for each worthy of a master writer.
…but it was no good.
Not with the noises of feet with flesh still attached to them making so much noise above them, flooding the holes on the sides of their skulls that once housed ears instead of cobwebs. Not with that forgotten sensation in their limbs, that some of them remembered calling twitching when it wasn’t seen as the gift that it was. Not with that indefinable energy making them feel like both a block of ice and burning coals at the same time.
They all couldn’t stay asleep.
They all couldn’t stay still.
They all couldn’t stay dead.
Amongst the foundations of the world, the very bedrock of all human existence, are those who have passed on into death’s unavoidable embrace content? Do they live in an inescapable realm of pleasant dreams or nightmares? For those souls who got that hug at Cornwell's Arms Hospital for the Criminally Insane during the revolt of the inmates that killed everyone there, there was an identical agreement…it was one of nightmares.
This isolated place, this island prison, by some eldritch criminal necromancy, had not been allowed to spiritually decay. Something unknowable to any of the living festered within these walls. Its will was destined to become manifest, to tear asunder all of their rational notions. Even now, the progress had begun. With no bangs, the dark energies were resurfacing. The decomposition was running in reverse…towards a new and strange birth, a dark birth.
This abandoned asylum was to be a womb, for a dark, aged litter already birthed once.
The second birthing, the resurrection, had begun. Though there were no mirrors or shining surfaces against the dusty decay that surrounded them, those who found their eyeballs congealing in their flaking, brittle eye sockets once again could see their fate by looking at those around them, at their brothers and sisters in this arcane miracle.
Everything was coming together.
Not knowing how, everything came back, slowly. Bones shattered in reverse and hardened. Milky muscle marched and snowy skin slid over their newly recovered bones.
The flesh was faintly glowing, and white. It had a fitful phosphorescence, like the glow of deep-sea fish, cold and charmless. The flesh was smooth, like polished marble, and translucent, like unblemished glass. An elegant crisscrossing of blue and purple snaked in and around worn patches of tightly wound up crimson draped over aged rough yellow.
As they slowly dared to stand for the first time in over fifty years, the reanimated saw something, realized something, something about themselves that filled them with fear.
They were inside out!
Or, at least, that was the first impression they had as they saw the profusion of exposed internal organs; the intestines twitching and glistening in the faint dusky light, the lungs rising and falling like royal purple sponges being squeezed by unseen hands, the laboring burgundy hearts hammering against a alabaster ribcage that looks like its cracking; the exposed bones of their exterior skeletons. As the slaughterhouse grotesquery played itself out, those coming back to life, whatever they were, realized something.
They weren’t inside out, they still had flesh on the outside, but it was altered. Somehow it had been made transparent, revealing the true, repulsive inward body for all to see. It was as if the comforting lie of the skin has been phased out, leaving only the bleak, messy bodily truth.
Powers of motion came to them, they stood and strode after so very long. They felt joys as small as stretching their creaking limbs and rubbing out the cobwebs from their sockets with their elderly, yellow knuckles before the flesh like light grew over them.
Powers of understanding came to them; they remembered what it was to think again.
But for some of them, even this dreamed of joy was found to be a bittersweet realization.
One of them, a woman, was about to discover this. She was lying on the ground on her back, just as ghastly and glowing as the others. Her eyes were closed, though they could be partially seen through the semi-transparent eyelids. Her face appeared to be in the process of losing all coloring. She was motionless, breathless.
Then, there was a long-drawn sigh, at the end of which the last color from her face vanished. As quick as a flash, her eyes shot open, shining an awful light from her ghostly pale blue irises. What shined from those eyes was a great wonder, which went to the far corners of her face. Her mouth was a full and happy smile, basking in the simple joy of being alive once again.
In an instant, the wonder faded. What filled the space previously for the wonder was fear!
Starting at her face, her muscles began to hideously convulse with an unnatural shaking. Quickly though it traveled, as if moving along her spine and nerves and arteries. The shaking was escalating, as if the soul of this woman was struggling and shuddering within the house of the flesh, as if the soul saw the flesh for the first time and was repulsed by it.
The gazes of others around her were chocked by sympathy but powerlessness to help her. Many of them turned away, being unable to see the remainder of how much they had lost. The worse part of this unnatural display was what happens when her limbs move. Every gesture, no matter what kind it was, left in the air behind the gesture a solid seeming after-image. The visual impressions this trailing translucent nature caused was hard to describe. The flailing arms became fans of bone like the wings of phantom swans.
Even though not all of them reacted with such horror to their current selves, there were other less than positive reactions and meditations.
Some of them knew of things past this, some of them knew of the still living world out there. It was a world that had continued on without them, indifferent to their grim fates.
Was this what it felt like to be alive…frustrated, sleepless…and forgotten about? Didn’t anyone know of them? Were they not worth remembering? Didn’t them being their fellow humans merit them anything? Was this what all of their hardships lead to…to them all be rendered a nameless mass of fables and stories? To be a fragment of history?
They didn’t like that. They didn’t like finding their first feelings of substance and thought were the feelings and thoughts of being buried, obsolete, ignored, stuck…of being dead.
They didn’t like that.
Even so, even with the instinctual complaining that they had saved for over fifty years, for the first few minutes at least, the newness of life had the dead masses enraptured.
After the first exuberance of their resurrection had abated, they began to break off into groups. Quietly, often still without tongues or lower jaws that didn’t fall off and shatter, they spoke of what they would do now. They started to debate their first actions of life.
The final verdicts were many. Some had no idea for they were too trapped by the ghastly dramas of their first attempt at life; these souls would just cry about things that had happened to them and they were incapable of changing, even without any tears falling. Some wanted to move beyond the crumbling walls of their imprisonment and started making plans for how to do so, not knowing of the futility of any such escape attempts. Some wanted to do nothing more than joke and jest with one another, laughing at death. Some of them buried any preexisting hatchets and embrace others gently, so they didn’t shatter. Some wanted to reignite old feuds, to at last end quarrels endlessly imagined.
But these were not the sentiments of an admittedly unimaginative majority of those here. Whether it was based in notions of revenge, envy, or not knowing what else they would do, many of the conversations between these corpses began to be whispered more darkly. They wordlessly spoke with a common breathless excitement of evening some score. It was decided; these breathing corpses yet to come would be brought to there shared state.
Knowledge not meant for their brains was starting to become known to them, offering them brief glimpses of what had happened since their departure from their mortal coils. It was flashes of image, whispers of words, sparks of neurological activity of new concepts.
For whatever reason, the most frequently experienced of new knowledge collected wasn’t of things like the defeat of the seemingly invisible Soviet Union without the mushroom cloud, the riots and protests of the Negros, the many colonies of Europe rebelling against the nations that had beaten them into submission for a century, or the traveling of men into the realm where the stars were not above you but level to you on massive missiles. Those colossal currents in the sea of time gave way to rippling more personal, dearer.
They saw fleeting visages of those above them, of those who entered their resting place, the place that had been a tomb for them that they never wanted. They were all young, no older than twenty-five, all of them reeking of a scent that some of them remembered as alcohol. There were men and woman, with fashions and hairstyles that made the half-decayed masses either shake their heads in confusion or pity the state of humanity.
They saw Asian and Spaniard not being subservient, as they walked along side White. They saw members of this drunken party express their homosexuality with no shame. They saw some of the women leading the charge, not bowing to the whims of the men. All of these notions were so foreign, had they returned to the Earth they had come from?
They heard the voices of them, whose conversations had a vanity that shocked those from whom vanity had been peeled away by the grave as assuredly as a butcher’s knife peels skin. They spoke in crude vulgarities that were somewhat not understood and lacked in their words or thoughts even the basest of simply human decency. There were slurred words of not supposing to be here that were quickly by silenced unoriginal insults and buzzed proclamation of engaging in a haphazard orgy amid this place of past death.
But as much as the appearances and thoughts of those above them offended their senses, the malign multitudes had the hardest time with a few concepts presented telepathically.
An anecdote. A ghost story. A fiction. A joke.
A joke. That’s what they were to them, a joke, something on the level of a vaudeville performance or a radio show or a double feature at the matinée. Their story had the same level of dignity to those creating this as a opening animated short before a Humphrey Bogart gangster picture about a talking rabbit outwitting a dimwitted human hunter.
After coming back to life, and feeling only the aching hollowness of what they lacked, salt was poured into the still healing wounds of the flesh that would never fully heal. They were first beings to experience a second kind of death, the kind of death that reduces humans into either a one-note historical construct or a meaningless statistic. The change of all that is left into either a Hitler or a nameless man killed in a gas chamber.
The disrespectful drunkards were recounting brief vignettes of their lives, the mad parts. They recounted with gleeful relish and sadistic whimsy the acts of violence they had done, the parts of their brains not made full by God, and the ways that they weren’t normal. All sensational, all sickeningly sweetened for their consumption, all stinging to them. The yarns being passed around like dollar bills of parable and amusement omitted the confusion, the anguish, the impotence and hopelessness that was in their lives. They omitted their humanity, and thus they were killing it. It was only one of the blows.
Their torments trivialized, their pains pandered to and parodied, their burdens belittled, their suffering satirized; their very existence reduced to a self-servicing punch line.
They were being represented as ghosts and ghouls, heartless abominations before God. Nothing more than monsters to make themselves better by opposing and destroying them.
But the dead knew better. The ether-faces of their fellow dead were quite clear in front of them. There expressions were distant and alien, indifferent and unnaturally bright. Everyone there could see the profundity of their suffering and coldness it left in its wake.
As the number of corporal corpses went to over five dozen and kept growing, they have a realization. They are not just the dead but also a very special kind of dead. They weren’t the happy, idling masses of the ordinary dead, of people who had been loved and who had died peacefully content, who’d say that they had gotten a pretty good deal out of life.
No, this asylum isolated from the rest of humanity, by now rusted iron bars and cliffsides of rocks so jagged that they could have been mistaken for steak knives made of stone and blades made of boulders overlooking a wrathful stretch of unbroken sea, by some means had opened up a gateway to a realm only inhabited by the victims and the perpetrators of violence within this building’s stonewall of the past. The men, the women, and most shockingly of all, the children who had died enduring all the pains their nerves had wit to muster, with their minds branded by the circumstances of their deaths.
Eloquent beyond words, their eyes spoke their agonies. Their ghost bodies still bore the wounds that had killed them. They all saw so many varieties of bodily maltreatment.
They saw necks spurting blood that was a mournful mauve down their decolorized chests. They saw poppies in some chests, which now were holes in the whitened windows of their skin. They saw limbs that were now uneven and jagged stubs that looked like broken beer bottles. They saw eyes hanging from the sockets by nerves that danced and jugged with every step. They saw bowels dragging over the floor, with their owners seemingly unconcerned, as their last meals became a snail trail behind them. They saw groins so eviscerated that it was impossible to tell which of the two sex organs it had once been.
These beings, broken and half-formed in body, were becoming frenzied, restless. There conversations escalated, adding more treacle black notes to the chattering and howling of their Jabberwocky.
They could see, mingling freely with the insane innocents, their slaughterers and tormentors in doctor’s robes. Now they appeared to march as one army of the arcane, with the differences that divined them in life now appearing as petty as they had always been. There was nothing petty about them; they were beyond such sad states of being.
A great fire stirs within their bruised breasts that swelled them with refreshing pride. From an eruption point without explosion or heat or earthquake, a kind of lava widens. It is an intangible, unstoppable hot sea of chromium flowing through their collective psyche. It is awakening, a moment of heavenly clarity amid the festering hell of new life.
It was not they who were the monstrous ones; it was they who were the honest ones. They were pure; they were not under any false illusion of what it was they were.
They were something more, something noble and mighty, something better than a mass of forgotten malformed rejects of humanity, something that wasn’t sad or pathetic!
They were something that had surpassed the unconquerable black carrion pit of death itself! Something with no equivalent! Something worthy of their own beetle-less epics!
They were an army of the arcane, a wounded but unbroken legion, with a shared purpose.
It was decided. They were done. It had gone on for long enough. They were sick of it. They were sick beyond death of having lies and half-truths told about them, of having tricks played on them behind their decayed back, of being misrepresented and mocked. They were sick beyond death of being beyond death, of feeling so hollow and not alive.
They demanded satisfaction, and devised a means of obtaining it.
They would fill the silence in their lost mute souls with their screams of agony and terror.
They would be able to recapture the warmth they had felt, with the blood of these bodies.
They would be able to find, if only briefly, the thrills of life in the deaths of these living.
Aside from thoughts of murder and pain, the thoughts in this terrible train were simple.
They would no longer be forgotten.
They would no longer be mocked.
They would no longer be still.