Jonas was a quiet boy. He didn’t have issues speaking if another person happened to engage him first, but few people did that. He didn’t show much direction in life that wasn’t set in motion by someone else- he attended the sermons of his local church regularly, as his grandfather was the pastor for a time, and sought to invigorate Jonas’ sense of personal drive and broaden his circle of friends by bringing him into a flock tempered by holy verses cherry-picked to support a more old-testament worldview. However, he remained isolated in the congregation, neither accepted nor rejected, until his grandfather died. The old followers filtered out, replaced by new faces, while Jonas remained a wallflower staple of the church as he grew, as it had become part of his own doctrine of repetitious behavior. He remained impassive, as pastors came and went. It was routine. Maintainable.
He did quite well in school, but not by virtue of academic enthusiasm or comprehension, so much as a talent for scantron test forms. As lonely as Jonas was, he had never known the presence of attention and interest enough to resent its absence. It was in his nature to be lonely as it was to beat his heart- a factor so inherent it was never questioned. At least, so it had been, until Jonas met the girl in the antique dress.
In truth the girl was a woman of about thirty, but Jonas was always stuck by her youthful air, and the moody but playful mannerisms she displayed readily that he had never possessed. She lived in a large cabin on the edge of the town, tucked away in the woods that corralled the suburban community. A few weeks before his 17th birthday, he had seen her examining the nutritional facts on the back of a packet of instant ramen in a pseudo-supermarket. Which really wouldn’t have caught his eye, if she wasn’t wearing an immaculate, ebony-black Victorian gothic dress. It seemed surreally photogenic to his eyes, never impeding her idle movements or appearing awkward in the way that such dresses often do. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been staring, but he suddenly realized that she had taken notice of him and was looking back at him with a raised eyebrow. Before his urge to apologize kicked in, he was distracted by how striking her eyes were. They were bright yellow- almost alarming in how they bordered on a luminous, fire-like quality. He didn’t think to find it ominous at the time, but his mind’s eye imagined her piercing eyes belonged to a wolf, garbed in a costume of marble-like skin, so free of blemishes… He would see her eyes many more times, though each instance would become progressively more melancholy. As the awkwardness of the situation started to weigh on his mind, she suddenly stuck her tongue out at him, and those previously intimidating eyes crossed towards the bridge of her nose. Funny faces had never done much for Jonas, but he found himself laughing heartily at the expression, trying to shut himself up immediately. By the time he recovered from his fit, she was already turning her cart into another aisle, giving him a playful smile over her shoulder as she left his view.
The beautiful woman in the antique dress left quite an impression on him. Wondrous curiosity filled him for the first time in as long as he cared to remember, and each passing glance (similar to the one shared in the market) enticed him into thinking about her, in one way or another, whenever he wasn’t busy. Jonas became livelier in conversation, and altogether a more sociable boy in the weeks that followed. Jonas described his affinity and fascination with the woman to a select few, including his mother and father. But when they convinced Jonas that such affections were quite normal, even expected, he experienced a sobering realization. It was not a singular moment of epiphany, but a gradual rise of a curtain he had always believed to be the edge of the human experience. It became apparent that his docile misery, in fact, was the exception rather than the rule he’d thought it to be. So he became wary of the curious souls who approached him thereafter; as without meeting the woman in the antique dress, they would never have taken note of him.
Then came the dreams of the woman in the antique dress. For the longest time he could not recall the exact nature of the dreams, simply waking each morning with a varying mixture of excitement and loneliness. On one particular night, he became vividly aware of what happened in his dreams. Jonas stood at the edge of a lukewarm, grayish forest, staring blankly at nothing in particular. She would appear in her immaculate black dress, peaking at him around the trees. She beckoned to him, and smiled at him in that special way. He would inevitably fallow her. The dreary place would have been mistaken for a photograph if they stopped walking. That’s how it went, for a while. Until, all at once, they entered a lush meadow of pleasant warmth and soothing breezes, rich with plant life, elegantly soaring birds and playfully fluttering butterflies. She took his hand in her own and led him along a stream that ran through the meadow, and he wondered if he ought to say something. But as they walked, and walked, he could not find a single word within his vocabulary that was anything short of vulgar compared to the lovely ambient sounds of the patch of Eden. His face calmly wettened with tears of admiration for the place, and his guide through it. After an eternity all too short-lived, the woman in the antique dress stopped walking, and turned to face him. She smiled at him in a way he hadn’t quite seen before- expectantly, as if whatever was about to happen had been agreed upon far in advance. She caressed his face lovingly, and Jonas finally broke the implicit vow of silence, a naively potent blush painting his face. “May I hear your voice..?” It was the most intimate and significant question he could think to ask. The woman grinned and nodded at him, resting her forehead against his and eliciting a mesmerized gasp.
As she cleared her throat, it again occurred to him how impossibly luminescent her irises appeared… Brighter than the light that illuminated the meadow itself. Omnipotent and seductive in their gaze to the scale of the sub-atomic. Jonas felt his heart vaguely recoil as, for the first time, just for a flash… Those eyes seemed to contain something he found wholly disturbing. Her open mouth produced a chorus of deliberate, ineffable sounds- rising and falling to pitches and frequencies vocal chords are incapable of. The vibrations warped his senses, alienating him from reality. The only things he could truly recognize, were her eyes. As innumerable wavelengths distorted and malformed, depriving him of even his sense of self, he became singularly aware of her eternal gaze. The deepest, loneliest darkness had made a burrow in those eyes. He wanted to scream. Struggle. Escape. But in that moment, he had no physical identity with which to resist. Indifferently, the eyes closed.
The woman in the antique dress kept her eyes closed, as she hummed softly to herself. One palm pressed into the side of the boy’s face, still lightly petting him. She held Jonas’s head under the water of the stream easily, even as he began fighting for breath. “I promise to make your suffering legendary, even in hell, my dear…” Icy water violated his throat and sinuses. A sense of death reigned in his mind. As his struggles began to weaken, her hand was removed from his face. Delirious, he shot up to his feet, only to fall limply on his face before achieving anything close to balance. As he vomited the river-water and coughed pathetically, he gaped in horror at what had become of the meadow. Life had been exiled. Snow and ice blanketed the ground like a plague, dead birds lining the morbidly still scene. There was nothing quite so horrible done to something so innocent that Jonas had witnessed before in his life. The woman in the antique dress was gone, and upon entering a panic and looking around for her he noticed that every inch of the stream, save for the part he had been drowning in, was frozen. He shrieked and sobbed, overwhelmed by the malice that had befallen heaven. His agony echoed across the meadow with unnatural longevity, and he soon found himself leading a choir of his own maddened screams. Absolutely disgusted, he rose to his feet to sloppily run as far away from the scene as possible. He needed to leave, but never seemed to get any closer to the trees. Mercifully, his frigid limbs could carry him no more, as a sedating blackness seeped into the corners of his eyes before swallowing him.
He awoke in the forest, lying face-down on a patch of bare and harsh earth that had once been mud. He found that the level of ice and misery there were closer to bearable. As a sobering disillusion hallowed out his juvenile heart, replacing it with a sense of betrayal he had no way of processing, he wept. In spite of that, he hoped. Like a puppy hopes, when they fail to understand being beaten for something when all they had known before then was love and happiness. Hoping that if they meet their master’s eyes again, the crushing malice would be gone, and playing could resume. Jonas gaped up at the sky, hoping to see the beautiful blue from before, only to be greeted by smog-ish gray clouds… He closed his eyes, hoping to never behold such an awful world ever again. He pulled his knees to his chest, wanting to disappear from this place. He never should have opened himself up to the lie, he thought. The lie of pleasure. The lie of love. The lie of the woman in the antique dress… Being alone and oblivious of all beyond loneliness, he realized, was his salvation. He pleaded for life to become docile and meaningless again, to no avail. He covered his ears to block out the whimpering scrape of wind, pressing his face into the dirt to escape its perverse molestation of his senses. He could not retrieve his existential virginity… But he could claim sanctuary in his own manufactured sensory deprivation, though it did nothing to comfort him. Not really… But he could lie, and tell himself it did. Perhaps if he did it long enough- until sleep or death came, it would be enough to convince him… So he waited. Time passed, and he remained. He hoped with all of his being that time itself had forgotten him… He no longer felt the cold, or the wind. Temperature ceased to exist for him. He felt no sense of center or direction, and soon he didn’t feel that he existed any more at all… Nothing to process, by any means. No means by which to process…
Only then did he notice a hand resting on the back of his head. All at once, he was confronted by his own senses again. Chilled to the bone, painfully pressing his face down to the ground, trembling like a premature birth… This state was inescapable, and his alone to cherish. He shook his head and sniveled, pleading to be left alone in unintelligible mewls, as speech was now beyond him. She seemed to understand him all the same. With a single word, she uncaringly destroyed Jonas inside in a way he’d never imagined she could. “No.” That monosyllabic rejection came through perfectly, cutting through the muffling of his hands and the sounds around him- even within him, as not even his heartbeat was heard as plainly.
Her fingertips tapped softly against the back of his head, and Jonas felt hot, thick blood flowing over his scalp… His eyes opened wide.
“… Do you hate me?”
“Do you love me?”
“Does this make you feel anything?”
“You’re not getting anything out of this… Good or bad…”
No longer was she sadistic, hateful, or… Anything. She had not a single care for what she was doing. His suffering was allowed on less than a whim. She didn’t even feel that she should look him in the eye as she dehumanized him with apathy. A kind of loneliness that was impossible… His own causality was alone… Her thumb easily dug through the skin, and punctured a hole in the base of his skull. Something she tore through as she prodded into his brain caused a pocket of boiling tar and acid to start circulating through it… From the reptilian layer up. It had long since been sealed away with unbreakable bindings. Fermenting and pressurizing. A lifetime of adrenaline injected itself into him, and his frozen hands slapped against the rock-like ground to push himself up. Her hand stayed statuesque without effort.
A feral roar exploded from him as he strained his body without inhibition, muscles verging on tearing themselves apart as he remained undaunted, even as his neck broke. “ANSWER ME!”
“No.” He howled with rage, and her hand was made to vaguely tremble at holding him down.
“ANSWER ME! ANSWER ME! ANSWER!”
“Make me.” Jonas screamed and beat his fists into the earth… Within a second, he had hurled earth several solar systems away. Suspended in space, surrounded by star dust and cosmic fire, he became something other than human. He reached back slowly, roaring with the power of a god, dark-matter fueled blazes replacing his pupils, as he ripped her arm off at the shoulder. She grinned.
Jonas’ mortal senses could only comprehend what had happened there, and thereafter, in fundamental terms. Massive exertions of energy and momentum, producing rifts of gravity at velocities beyond the speed of light. Something beyond human senses took their place…
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