Tuesday, December 16, 2008

'Suicide Station', Conclusion

[To read Part 1, "The Dead Ravine," go here.]

[To read Part 2, "Helen," go here.]

[To read Part 3, "Bad gods,"
go here.]

4. Lazarus
When I woke up things were different. Helen was different, to put it more accurately.

You’re awake. Good. Time to go, she said. But her voice sounded much colder, more distant.

I struggled to sit up. Did I sleep too long? I’m sorry. I—

No. But still, it’s time to go, she said. I realized she was literally standing over me. I looked up towards her but it was still dark. Very dark, in fact. She carried the portfolio. It was obvious she wanted to move.

What about you? Don’t you need rest?

It doesn’t matter now. We have to get going. Up the tower, she answered.

Something about her tone seemed to eliminate any possibility of an argument, so I struggled painfully to my feet. My back hurt; my knees cracked so loudly I thought they were breaking. The report almost sounded like gunshots. The wind was blowing very coldly again; I shivered violently. I bent over and plucked my wallet from the ground. Helen eyed me in silence.

Are you all right? Did something happen? I tried.

The gods are closer. It’s best if we climb the tower. Now.

But I didn’t hear any gods. And the storm? I asked.

It’s coming, she said. She was looking at me, but I couldn’t see her face.

Helen, I .. I didn’t mean to … you should have woken me up.

That’s not it, she said. She turned and started up the stairs.

The ascent was treacherous and cold. My legs hurt, I was almost freezing, and the increasing height and narrow steps were giving me a kind of vertigo. Helen took the stairs step by step, tirelessly, automatically. She didn’t say a single word as we went up. Nor did I. The climb didn’t lend itself to conversation, since we were filing up one in front of another. But I couldn’t help but think that even if we were side by side, she would still be silent. She had seemed much more amiable before I slept, and I took that to mean she was excited to cross over and go find her son. But that was assuming she even knew how to cross us over. Maybe she was having doubts about how to do it. Maybe she couldn’t remember. Maybe she was finally just worn out and beaten. Or, perhaps, maybe she was thinking about what sort of toll it could take on her to reunite with her only son in the Construct and then have the hurricane hit. She might be wondering now if it was better not to find him again.

I had no idea, really, but between her and my own addled state of fatigue and discomfort, I really didn’t know what to think. I felt pretty miserable. How the hell did I get here, into this totally bizarre conundrum to begin with? For this, it seemed to me there would never be an answer.

We continued our ascent. I was wondering about how much time might have passed while I slept, and what could have happened to change Helen’s demeanor, if not an attack or the signs of the hurricane. But all I could come up with was what I had thought of before – maybe she had just had time to think about things and realized there would be no favorable outcome. I didn’t know. On the subject of passed time, I discovered that there was a line of gray light on the far horizon – to the east? – and that it was dawn again. This meant one of two things: the nights here were very short, or Helen had had the watch for a long time. I felt guilty. But up we went.

It was a frightening climb, especially towards the end. I don’t know how long it took. Perhaps a half hour, maybe longer. A few times I got very dizzy and almost toppled off. Helen continued to drag herself up. It wasn’t hard to understand why she might have wanted to get up quickly, however – assuming she still desired to cross over. I did my best to keep up, but it wasn’t easy.

By the time we reached the top of the tower, a weird, silvery gray light was spreading out all across the earth, or the surface, or whatever you might call this misbegotten place. There was even a kind of metallic taste to the air up there. It seemed both odd and ominous, and by some deeply laid instinct, I took this as a pre-cursor to the storm.

At the top there was not much to see, save for an elevated platform, I guess you might call it, in the center of the apex, and a broad view of the nothingness in all directions. The platform structure sat at about shoulder height and was set back from the edge of the tower at perhaps ten feet on all sides. If you wanted to you could have climbed on top of it, but I don’t know what the point of that would have been. Unless it had something to do with the function of the waystation – maybe it was from atop this supplementary apex that one actually crossed.

Speaking of crossing, I figured Helen would want to get started. She had wandered off ahead of me, the fingertips of her left hand brushing lightly against the stone wall of the platform, her eyes turned towards the far horizon from which the light bled forth like something spilled in the sky.

Then, abruptly, she turned to me. Will you hold this, please, said Helen, like a statement. She extended the portfolio.

Sure, I said. I took it.

Without another word, and with no other gesture whatsoever, Helen turned away from me, strode to the edge of the tower, and stepped off.

I almost passed out from shock. I choked on the metal blades in the air. Suddenly I was stumbling forward. Over the edge of the tower I could see her falling, her dress flapping behind her like some singular white wing on a mutated angel. Her form blew or was carried forward a short distance, as though she was indeed flying. I fell to my knees, averted my eyes, and managed to avoid seeing her slam into the dead ground.

The next thing I remember is being there on the lip of the tower, coughing and drooling. Below, Helen lay face down on the shattered floor. It looked almost as if it had been an earth-colored pane of glass, and the impact of Helen had smashed it into pieces. She was small from where I was positioned, but I could still observe something else, something that seemed wrong. A kind of pale white tube led from beneath her corpse and trailed away from her body for several feet. Her flesh had burst. The tail end of the strand fluttered loosely in the gale.

I bellowed into the wind. Over and over again. The wind treated my cries the same way it did those of the bad gods. It ushered them off hungrily into the void.

That was some time ago. An hour. Two hours. I don’t know. I am now sitting again at the base of the tower. Why I came back down I am not sure. For I know now that I will have to climb this hellish station once again.

The greatest shock I have ever known did not destroy me. It felt like it surely would, but it didn’t. I am not speaking of Helen’s suicide. I am speaking of the discovery I made when I got back down here.

While I write these words, a very odd thought occurs to me. You must forgive me, for my mind is no longer stable. But it seems to me that the notion of suicide shares an affinity with the notion of God, in the following sense. In the case of both suicide and God, once you determine that either of them is possible, they are in one sense actual. They say that if you decide to search for God, you’ve found him already. In the same way, strangely, once you decide suicide is on the table, you have probably already committed it with the most vital part of yourself.

I got down here somehow, and when I did, not knowing what else to do, I opened up the portfolio, with the idea of putting down these words. And it was there, on the first page, that I saw this.

Now I understand who you are.

The thought hadn’t occurred to me until the moment you said my discovery of this folder was funny. It was the way you said it. I once knew another man who also had an ironic sense of humor. You and I even shared a few moments of irony ourselves in the small time we were together. That is something, I suppose.

If you haven’t guessed who I am, and it doesn’t strike me that you had, see the photograph tucked behind the brass plate. While you were sleeping I took the liberty of looking in your wallet, just to confirm things. But by then I knew. It is just one of life’s coincidences that I found the identifying object that I did in your possession, even here.

Isn’t it odd that I never asked you what your name was and you never offered it? If you’re wondering what your real name is, it is Lazarus. More irony. Your father and I somehow thought we might deliver you from early death. We were young ourselves.

One more thing. If it strikes you as terrible that I have done what I am about to do, this soon after we have found one another, that’s because it is. It is not just terrible, it is selfish. I don’t deny this. I do love you – I loved you enough to stay alive until this final sorrow. But, you see, you are not from the Construct. Believe me, I know. Therefore we are – you are – stuck here. We cannot cross over. And I can’t go through another moment here. Even with you, I can’t. If that means my fear of what will happen very soon overpowers my love for you, so be it. I am, in the end, weak.

That storm will literally rend you head to toe, Lazarus. Make no mistake. Your suffering will be unimaginable. I am sorry to write this down, but I don’t like to tell lies. Do what you must.


P.S. Of course, it was I who summoned you. I just didn’t know it. The Summons Ritual is very old, and few people are left here who can still speak of it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just make a person appear before you. Once summoned, you have to find them. I tried it several times, not knowing what I was doing. But it explains why we ran into each other at such long odds. I should have recognized you, but I didn’t – it has been decades, and if you want the truth I can hardly remember your father’s face.

So here I am. I didn’t really have to see the photograph, but of course, I looked. It was a small square with a white border. The border was printed on all four sides with the words MAY 1971. It was a short, brown-haired woman seated on a sofa, wearing a white blouse with a gaudy bow at the neck and a dark green skirt. She had on a gold necklace, and her hair was pulled back with a headband. She held a glass of wine in one hand, and there, sitting at her feet, was part of a chubby baby in short pants, cut off by the frame. The woman was Helen.

I had never seen her again after she went away. Someone might have just told my father a terrible lie. Perhaps there was no taxi accident. Who knows what really happened? I was less than a year old.

It has taken some time to write all of this down. The day seems to be concluding once again. I am tired, so very tired. I feel nothing but a dull heavy pressure in my head and a cramping in my hand. I wonder if my own soul still exists. Whether or not it does, I will now leave this portfolio, right here, at the base of the station. Who knows if it will ever be found or seen? But it matters little. Once you write down your story, you have done your job, independently of readers. I’ve always understood this.

I just looked up to the horizon, far past that unknowable, stiffening corpse. Even now I begin to see a thick, penetrating blackness blossoming out from behind the distant rocks like a Lotus. I stand now to climb the tower again. For I must re-join my mother, in a very different journey, inside yet another unknown.


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