sit, and I watch, and I listen.† Outside the rain is falling like tears.† In the world where the children sit it is warm and bright.† I sit in the same room as they do.† We are separated by the distance between heartbeats.† I am so cold.
††††††††† The wallpaper is blotched with damp.† Up near the ceiling it is peeling, hanging in lank strips towards us, yearning to touch bright hair and warm skin.† Armchairs sag, stuffing oozing.† Dust carpets the floor, thick and unbroken.† It long since ceased to concern me that I leave no footprints behind me, that I drift intangible through this dead and empty world.† Beyond the Shroud which separates me from the world of the Quick, the room is full of children.† I know this, even though I can barely see them.† I hear them from time to time, faint sighs and whispers, and I catch glimpses of their insubstantial forms flickering at the edges of my vision.† I cannot see them clearly, save those in which the embers of Oblivion smolder, waiting to flare into dark flame.† Even they are faint, blanketed by the shroud.
††††††††† For a moment a memory from the past torments me, a time of color and cheer, when I was as they are, a child, a traveler, backpacking my way around the world.† As I did then, I am sure these children see themselves as adults, young, yes, but oh, so wise, so deathless, so infallible.† A room of travelers, scattered by supersonic winds.† German, English, Australian, American.† They sit in this space, watching flickering television images, sharing joints, bottles, lives.† They have traveled far.† I have traveled further than any of them, disdaining now their slow and clumsy struggles.† Now I travel faster than a scream.
The past fades.† I watch, strain my senses to listen to the banter, to see the childrenís bright eyes and flickering hands as they talk amongst themselves.† I wonder how they will die.† Her in the corner, the quiet one.† Her death is plain.† It is written in the gaunt lines of her face, in her starved and frightened eyes, lit darkly from within.† Oblivion burns strong in her.† It will not be long before it claims her.† Tonight she will lock herself in the shared bathroom of this guest house before going to bed, fingers repeatedly coaxing every last trace of her Spartan meal up from her tortured entrails until the toiletís enamel bowl is slick with vomit and blood.† I can already see the skeleton she will become in less than a year.† Him, blond haired, handsome; I can see the encrusting lesions waiting to begin the journey across his skin.† Gunshots, traffic accidents, murder, disease.† Deathmark-mottled faces, lividity waiting for the post.† A room full of laughing corpses that do not know they are dead.
I stand unnoticed in the corner, unengaged in any conversation.† It is almost time.† Every year on this night I return to this place, this shelter, and until I am claimed by the Void I shall always do so.† The faces are different tonight, as they always are, but they are also always the same.† Travelers.† Students.† Children.† Seeing the world before they become fossilized in their careers like flies in amber.† How desperately they struggle, how tenaciously they cling to empty lives.† Unwittingly they lie to themselves, claiming that what they do is different, individual, purposeful, lasting.† Each and every one of them forces himself to believe that their life matters, that their life is the one that will make the difference.† I used to think that too, before I died.
It had all become too much.† The parties, the bands, the brief affairs.† It becomes more of an effort to keep up the charade than it was worth.† I gradually came to realize that I was not enjoying my life.† More so, I came to see how shallow, how empty and meaningless it all was.† Like everyone else I had deluded myself into thinking that my existence was ordered.† I had believed in destiny.† Then, that fateful autumn night when the fogs hung pale over the stinking canals and the city seemed to waver like a dream before dawn, I saw the hollowness of it all, the transparency of all the lies I had always accepted as true.† Love was just a ploy I used in order to stop feeling lonely.† Life was a series of days, no more important or valid or meaningful than those ever lived by anyone else.† Nothing I could control would ever be exceptional, or important.† Except, perhaps, my death.
I committed suicide in on of the rooms upstairs, in this very hotel, for it had been here that the final, fatal revelation had appeared.† I was 21.† I cut my own throat with the pocket-knife my father had given me before I left home.† It hurt.† After I had finished, the white sheets on my narrow rented bed were not longer clean.
I awoke from my dreams of Heaven to discover myself trapped in the Shadowlands.† Somehow I managed to escape slavers, Ferrymen, Hierarchs and Heretics all.† I was lucky enough to be left along with my Shadow.† My Shadow told me I was weak.† My Shadow told me I had never amounted to anything.† My Shadow told me many things.† I listened.† And as I listened, I learned, and soon my Shadow and I were one.† The last thing my Shadow told me before his voice became ours, was that I could still die.† When Oblivion snuffed out the last flickering life in the cosmos, I could finally know peace.† I vowed then to sacrifice all to end my pain, if I could.† I am not being cruel, nor selfish, in this desire.† If I could end all pain, the pain of the world, of every being in existence, then should I not be called a saint?† But those to whom I whisper my plan look at me as if I were mad.† It is they who are insane, those wraiths clinging to lost dreams of the flesh.† But I forgive them, I even try to save them, even when they resist.† I am as forgiving as I am sharing.† I work for Oblivion, for the end of all life, all hope, all torment and fear.† Life is a burden.† I would set us free.
But even saints must have their pleasures.† This is mine.† It is more than a pleasure.† It is a vocation.† One boy leaves the room, turning his back upon card games and conversation.† My straining eyes see him clothed in black; darker than his rags is the aura that flickers and dances around him.† Oblivion is strong in this one.† It calls to me, begging me to set it free.
He is tall, his shoulders broad, and his movement supple and casual.† He is European, black-haired.† Stubble darkens his cheeks.† I follow him as he departs, slipping past him as he opens the door.† If he notices me, it is as a cold breeze, no more.
I listen to the healthy beating of his heart as he jogs up the stairs, counting the minutes until it stops.† His thoughts belie the passion of his body.† His body wants to live; his mind wants to die.† I sift through the ashes of his bitter memories of charred love letters and broken hearts, until I am left with the coals, memories of fists and blood and broken teeth, sounds of torn cloth, thrusting and screams, of humiliation, hate, mockery and bile.† I have chosen well.† There is happiness in this boy true, but the guilt and the fear and the despair are a sticky sea in which his higher self is trapped and slowly drowning.
The boy opens the door of his single room and courteously leaves it ajar.† I wait, sitting so lightly on the foot of his bed that no impression of my weight dents the moldy covering.† Down the hallway, I hear him splashing, pissing, brushing teeth and spitting, intricate ablutions of mortality marking out the days and nights of human existence in a liquid calendar.† The toiletís growl as he flushes it is echoed by his footsteps rerunning down the hall.
Into his room now he comes, locking and bolting the rotting door behind him.† As I have watched others over the years, I watch this one, dispassionately.† He strips off threadbare clothes to reveal flesh without shyness, imagining he is alone.† Muscles flex as he plants his feet firmly on the floor, arms raised, pulling a tight T-shirt over his head.† He has more hair than I would have imagined.† Dark curls insulate his skin.† As he unzips his jeans, I exhale.† His nipples harden in the suddenly cold air.† As he shivers, I lie back on the bed.† When he climbs naked beneath the sheets after turning off the light, I am beside him.
Moonlight streams through the broken window fringed by ragged curtains pale with dust.† The man tosses and turns in his narrow bed.† His mind wanders.† He cannot sleep.† Remembering the heavy bodies and the bored stares of the women of this city behind their windows, he grows aroused.† He begins to pleasure himself, fingers engaged in an erotic tour of his body they have taken many times but never tire of.† I lower myself into the red heat of his mind, watching as he shapes a phantom partner from past lusts.† He imagines himself as being irresistible, his fantasy lover desire incarnate.
As his ministrations grow faster, as blood flushes through his cheeks and his heart races, as he reaches the verge of climax and is thus most vulnerable, I strike, reshaping his dreamed partner, replacing her with myself.† The handsome face of his erotic fantasy suddenly flows; liquid flesh sloughing off beneath his urgent touch.† His fantasy thus invaded and disturbed, the boy opens his eyes.† It is now, as his toes curl and muscles tighten in the throes of orgasm and revulsion, that I force myself across the Shroud.† Pushing against straining reality to register an impression of my face that he can feel with lips gone suddenly dry, I kiss him.
He sees me, my deathly skin, the jagged flaps of tissue, skin and larynx gaping at my throat, my eyes, leaden, despairing, empty, looking deep into his; feels my skull where my lips have rotted away, tastes my tongue, beaded with bitter liquid, probing the warm cavity of his mouth.† He tries to wake, but he is not dreaming.† This is not his fantasy.† It is mine.† I clutch at him with bony fingers, pull his body to mine as he comes.† I smile broadly as he tries to scream, but he cannot vocalize his fear around my invading tongue.† Blood flows in clots like crimson pearls from my throat, spatters against the sheet where his fingers scrabble in terror, where his body bucks and jerks and sprays and tries to tear free from my grasp.
Even as he goes mad, his mind snapping under the strain I have forced upon him, I offer him the knife that is as much part of me as my lolling head or emaciated arms.† The stained and rusted blade promises and end to his torment.† It does not take long for the boy to saw through his throat, although perhaps it takes longer than he had anticipated.† The wound is not neat.† It has been many years since my blade was sharpened.† He gurgles once, and then his soul is consumed by Oblivion.† I sit with his slowly cooling body, waiting for dawn and discovery.† The look on the face of the woman who unlocks the door, come to change the sheets, is always priceless.† I have seen the expression several times since I died.† I doubt I will ever tire of it.