Null and Void

Have we met before? Ah, I thought not. Face like yours, all wide-eyed innocence and hope...yes, I'd remember if we had. Or perhaps not. Things...pass, you see. Voices. Memories. Faces. Over and over again I find myself asking the same tired questions in the same tired voice. Have we met before? Your name, please, I'm afraid I've forgotten. And...who are you, exactly? It all gets quite tedious after awhile. I'm sure you'd agree, were you the one behind bars and padded walls, the one forced to spend weeks, months, years in this cursed place-! Or has it been mere seconds? I couldn't tell you, couldn't know. I know so little now. This place...this place is a world unto itself.

So really, I must ask you- no matter that I abhor asking questions, where even the answers are questions, for in a barren world peopled only by cruelty and monotony the only answers are echoes from the void, and frankly I'm sick of all this uncertainty-! This...uncertainty. Apologies, et cetera. I get...carried away. On occasion. Caught up, if you will, in what I neither have nor remember. You understand, surely? Surely- no, please, don't back away! Please. I've been ill, you see, and it's been so long since I've had company, so many, many weeks and months and years bereft of the simple pleasure of an unmasked human face. I forget myself.

Come back, please, I simply wished to ask you why you had come. Not to see me, I should think, there are so many others here more worthy of your time. Or so they tell me. I don't know, really, I don't, how could I? I know only these walls. Four walls. White. Blank. Clean, but never pure. Not like the white walls of a child's nursery, glistening with the promise of a life yet to be lived. These walls have harbored darker things, darker thoughts. Darker tints. I scrubbed the blood from them just before you knocked, did they tell you that? No, of course not, why would they? Need-to-know basis, and all of that- I've what? Sorry? Oh, I've scared you? My dear, you are simply...too precious.

Do you see any blood on my hands? My arms, clothes, anything? Come closer, fool, take another look- there. You see? I was only joking- no, it was a joke, not a lie, I think I can discern the difference well enough. I'm a liar, you see. I lie all the time, even when I've no good reason for it. A sort of...compulsion, wouldn't you say? My wife would. If she knew. If she cared. She doesn't, mind: care, I mean, though she doesn't know, either. I could have ruined her with a lie, I could have rotted away in here and she'd hardly blink at the revelation. But then, I'm just a man. No more nor less than the twenty-six others she's slept with and cast aside, claiming an all-consuming hatred of the entire damn species. Species. Really. As if anyone in her right mind would shackle herself to a creature so far beneath her, swear to be companion and friend and anchor to it, under the authority of God in Hell until death do them part-!

But then, I knew she was a fool. Most of her kind are. Their voids are clouds, as harmless as they can be volatile. They all suffer the same sort of madness: a fickle, but really rather tiresome sort. The first and only embrace I got from her, I had to work so hard to get it, and she just lay cold, stiff, unyielding in my arms, the ingratitude! I almost pity her, the frigid, shallow thing- what? You think no living woman would be so cruel? That only the dead could be so cruel? And what, you think I killed her? I? A man completely sane by all accounts except yours-? And...theirs. Yes. They who brought me to this place in canvas and rope and chains, they who threw me to the wolves of my imagination, gone rabid with the thirst for blood, the Wild Hunt in joyous pursuit of my damned spirit and self- a cliche, yes, I know, don't tell me. Don't mock me.

I do know a great many things, don't I? More than just the walls, more than the walls know. Will you call me a liar for admitting that? You, so enslaved by your two-tone morality that your thoughts are no longer your own, that every word you speak and dare not dream is a lie in itself?

XXX

Come closer. Ah, come on, little idiot, I won't bite. Closer. That's better. Now, tell me, is it day or night? I've tried asking them, but they just won't say, I can't fathom why! But you...you're different. Maybe every word you speak is a lie- don't give me that look, all wounded pride, you live a life no more moral than mine, you of the doe's eyes and glassless house- but you wouldn't admit to it. And so you would speak no falsehoods willingly, no, you're too pure for that. So? Night, or day?

...Yes, yes, I'd hoped it was. I always liked the city best at night. Typical to say, I know, but...the darkness hides you. Tries to, at least; you can't fault it that valiant effort, but even then the lights never sleep, never fade. Funny, how eternity can live like that, in the flicker of a switch. Makes you wonder, doesn't it? Just how eternal something so dependent on human error can be? Nature can bring it crashing down around us without lifting a finger- return us and all marks of our being to the night, the winter, the void, and care nothing for our distress. And there's a sort of comfort to be taken from that, I find. No man, no mind, should last forever. I can barely bring myself to imagine how exhausting true eternity would be.

Not that I really have to imagine. I've seen it: the void. The nothing. Held it in my hands, spoken to it like a lover. It's the only one to listen without judgement, the only one to whom I can lie without compunction- yet it destroys me, slowly, from the inside out- no. No. I'm not lying. Not now. I've neither the will nor energy for that, I want no secrets between us. You're not here for me, but you are here; it's been so long, too long, since I've spoken to someone of sense. Or someone at all.

XXX

I've been ill, been lonely, been lying down, been lying. I have- yes, fine, point that finger like the gun you'd never have the courage to shoot if you must- I have killed. My wife. All twenty-six of her poor misbegotten men, her toys, her waste. If you'd caught me at my full strength, full detachment, I might have killed you, too.

I wonder if that would be a kindness to you? I can sense it, you know. You've your own void, kept under lock and key behind those bright eyes, that bright life, too soon to burn away to ash and dust. And I wonder, my dear, have you held it, as I have? Let the blankness of the beginning and end times possess you, consume you, make your body a vessel for the chaos it craves? Or do you cower from it, terrified of any sort of power within yourself, let alone one of such destructive caliber?

You have been here before; I know, I saw you. You didn't speak to me, but I saw you, and the shadow of you lingering about your gaze and mouse-steps. Do you come to places like this, holding pens for the dregs of human society, places of white walls and blood and screams, worlds without light, without life, without time, to seek us out? Men like myself- the abased, the mad, the lowest below the low? You think you're so high and mighty, out of reach in your purity- so far above that kind of degradation? That kind of bondage?

You watch. Wait. What will it take, to tip you over your edge? Now that, I don't know. Can't know. But perhaps you do...yes. Yes, I think so. Someday, my dear, you won't be able to hide from it. It will come for you- it did for me, it will for us all. Your mind will fade, the very core of whatever you call self scrubbed away, leaving no trace behind on the white walls your world will become. You will be shattered, your pieces gathered and reshaped into a cracked and fragile facsimile of a whole: a number, a nobody. You'll forget everything you ever thought you knew, even the memory of the sun's face. And that more than anything should scare you. Not I. I'm merely the messenger.

You'll thank me someday. When my hands leave your soft throat- a white more pure than any I've seen in any memory recent or near-forgotten- and take your belt to strap 'round mine, when the last scrap of shadow festering at the bottom of my weak and weary soul finds yours in the sinner's Hell, you'll thank me. For I've saved you, my dear, though you don't yet know it, didn't even as you fell, as the gentle light fled your eyes and your bird's heart fluttered still beneath my fingers. I've spared you a life of torment. I've spared you the terror of the void. Believe me when I say that's the most by way of mercy you'd ever have gotten from the sorry world above.