The light of gathering fires atop worn brick apartment buildings swam through the cavernous midnight smoke. The bitter breaths of winter cold flinched at the shimmer of menacing heat. He stood at the epicenter of the dying city. The burns were among so many greater wounds that had carved new tragedies into the once merely anemic building facades. The people living in them were dead and decayed—only their demons ruled now.
He walked among the ruin in search of a means to wreak vengeance. The arsonist crossed streams of shadow and smoke as he took to the street: quite alive and euphoric, but quiet and pale. The man spotted him from under the yellow glare of a streetlamp. He began his pursuit and the arsonist was too delirious to notice. The man’s steady advance became inevitable and mechanically pure like the path of a slasher in a cheap horror movie. The arsonist caught the feeling of being careless and the danger it could bring. He slowed down and prepared to turn—only to find the man’s blade at his throat.
The arsonist coughed in shock and the sting of a shallow cut made him writhe and whimper. The man didn’t care to entertain words. No, he would be like the fire—pitiless and sharp, wordless and mad. The knife drove in like a worm: digging, swerving, no elegance, no form. The hilt pressed into the neck and the tip of the blade pierced out the back. One forgets how much blood the human body can contain.
As the corpse fell and splashed, a crowded feeling pervaded. Footsteps had been clattering in between smaller noises. The man became aware of the assailants around him. Hoods and tall-collared jackets distorted grotesque features with chiaroscuro shades. Dust and slush-swept boots completed slender, hound-like frames. They brandished machetes, chains, nail-covered bats, and twisted sharp things found littering the streets. They had not come to avenge the arsonist. They were just hungry. There were too many.
With animal speed, they sprinted toward the man and drove their needles and blades into him, probing instantly through layers of bleeding flesh. Hands and their fingers claimed space on his body as it buckled in pain. His organs and muscles were torn and severed, catching along serrated points and sputtering with unintelligible viscera. Pangs of death had long ago lost their meaning; they persisted past the normal threshold of real human experience. He still lived. The power of his screams all the while were full and proud; they reached and reverberated in the attempt to transcend the limit of human sound, all the while carrying the sorrow and thrill of inevitable failure.
This was all just as he designed.
There was a time when I played with this toy just as I was supposed to.
I visited moments in my past and made them all saccharine and sacred.
They were edited in with former wishes and cleansed of ugly and regrettable things.
The machine made me a god, but I became a child.
Time wore down my wants.
The plasticity of the toy became unavoidable
And I remembered that I came from a “real” world—
One without justice, without respite from horror, without sense or direction or peace.
I remembered that I was wasting time.
Then it dawned on me that perhaps I’d missed the real point of the machine. Maybe there was still something valuable in it. I remembered that pain and pleasure were interconnected. They were both limited and inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. No extreme was even preferable to the other except on the menial surface—but something could be learned in the full and honest exploration of it all.
His mind began to adjust to the ceaseless ringing of severed nerves. Thoughts became smeared into their own creation, devolving into waves of fluctuating sensations. Death came creeping in.
The broken world is just a game. The “real” world was just a means to enter it. But what is coming now? Something new…
There was falling—or at least the semblance of it. The approach became fast and shuddering—a foreign breed of heat climbed over the man’s limp, bleeding features.
He arrived. The fire was white. In a shimmering instant he dropped into the arcs and waves of wild plasma. There was motion and sound, deformation and the momentous reeling of molecules into new configurations. The body was nothing now, dispersed into atoms that disassembled from the magnitude of destruction—the man’s consciousness persisted and continued to feel. The likeness of a scream bled out into skies of pitiless light bound in the folds of the Void. Mankind was not designed to know anything about the pain that could be felt here. But he was gifted with as much of the knowledge as physical existence could allow.
Something broke. The boiling and evaporation stopped. The man gasped out in the white room. It was the Haven. Serene blue cascaded from the window. The little strands of fabric on the royal blue carpet bent and curled dreamily at the shaking of his re-spawned body. The System suspended and re-arranged the data of his consciousness so that he could be made functional again. He breathed in cool air and curled up as tears climbed out from behind his clenched eyelids. He squirmed and the momentum of his movement rolled him on his back. He unfolded, twitched with sobs, and stared into the patterned lights above him. His tailored, broken world waited outside for him to return. He would walk proudly into it.
I do not connect
With the supposed beauty of the universe.
I have accidentally found a way to escape
All of its inane, impure graces and torments
And into a place of my making
Where I can freely and repeatedly take on and conquer the only things that are inevitable and real: