“I love to blow myself up!” he said enthusiastically.
“Excuse me?” she looked at him with surprise.
“Yeah, it’s a good strategic play. If you find yourself in a position where you’re going to vanish anyway, why not make it count?”
She couldn’t believe her own ears.
“So you’re advocating suicide bombing?”
“Well, yeah, given the situation. But I wouldn’t recommend doing it here. I mean, what a waste of opportunities.”
She was perplexed of his use of here and there. Here being “this iteration of experience, with this one given life” and there being “whatever was before this, maybe what’s coming after”, to use his words. It was all madness, of course, him being in a lunatic asylum after all (no, psychiatric hospital, she had to remind herself, to not flop on terms when writing her piece).
The session had started an early Tuesday afternoon. Under the guise as a therapist covering for his usual one, she had been allowed into the facility. It went surprisingly well, no doubt because of the guard helping her.
Funny how confidentiality agreements and professional standards are thrown out of the window when you’re approached by a hot chick seemingly interested in you. The guard had been very forthcoming about this guy. They had met in a pub, her starting the conversation, fishing around for tid-bits that might be used in her work as a writer. She felt the stare of the guard, eyeing her even now, probably wondering what she would do as gratitude for the favor.
Her appearance was a useful tool to get inside knowledge, she granted, from both men as well as women. Some of it hit and miss, although she had a knack for spotting people with an interesting story to boot, and it was worth it when she struck gold. And this was a big nugget indeed. Maybe enough for a short story in itself.
“You find it amusing?” he asked.
“Oh, sorry, just lost myself in the shock there.” She paused for a minute. “You talked about how your memory is picture perfect, even at this age of…”
“Seventy-four years, three months, and two days.” he uttered proudly. “Ah, how exquisite the concept of time. To be able to give a name to before and after, quite useful indeed.”
“Yes, indeed… But how far back goes your memory? When did you first realize that you remembered everything perfectly?”
“When does one realize what has always been? I suspect it comes apparent when you come in contact with those who’s experience differ from your own. Mind you, in my case it wasn’t until I was born that I first was introduced to… other individuals that weren’t like me.”
“You remember the day you were born?” she asked surprised. His imaginations were quite vivid, so this could be interesting.
“Oh yes, I can, and let me tell you, it was a struggle. Having no idea what’s to be expected, being squeezed out a much-to-small hole. The experience is strange, not painful per se, but awkward, as your head is somewhat crushed in the process. I later learned that this is due to the skull not being rigid, as it is now.
“As I had laid dormant for quite a while, I was a bit surprised by the whole ordeal. I don’t know how long, as I didn’t have any concept of time, and it was hard for me to distinguish night from day inside my mothers belly. It felt like an eternity, not being able to do much but trying to extend your growing body. Rest assured, I kicked a lot in my confusion.
“And the worst part of it all, when I finally was given birth to, when I finally had entered this world, this world of grandiose sensory inputs, what do they do? They spanked me! Oh, I was furious, screamed like a, well, a new-born baby.
“Upon finally being around other individuals, I was eager to learn more of this experience. Why was I here? What was the purpose of this? Why was my vision so lacking, everything a blur, and why were my senses so overwhelmed? Being a stranger to light and noise unhindered, it proved a straining experience.
“As I had discovered in the womb, my ability to communicate was still thwarted. But in screaming I realized I now had the ability to make sounds using my mouth. Probably an effective way of communication, I thought, and tried to pass on my questions. But there were no words, as I had learned to pronounce none, and no sense came out of it.
“So I continued my screaming. Until my voice was raw, and I couldn’t continue. Then I slept some. Then I woke and screamed a bit more. My parents went almost mad with my screaming, taking me to the doctors and checking for all sorts of problems. That was until I realized that screaming served me no purpose but to express my frustration. And although I was still frustrated, it didn’t progress my experience. So I stopped. And started observing my surroundings. Let me tell you, my parents were overjoyed.”
He laughed wholeheartedly, a laugh that can only stem from someone thoroughly enjoying themselves.
“Your laughter,” she noted, “I can see that you’re having fun.”
“Yes,” he amused her, “yes, I am. Are you surprised?”
“Well, yes, given your situation.”
“My situation? Oh, you mean, me being in this lunatic ward, of course. Yes, it might seem strange for one inhabiting such a place, to be enjoying myself over how crazy my story sounds.”
“You are not the first one to be on the receiving end of my tale. I’m not a fool to not realize how crazy I sound, I know very well why I am here. Although it is an ability I rarely indulge, I can empathize with those around me. It’s just that I’ve grown tired of it, and I do not care.
“What about love?” she promptly asked, hoping it would present her as naive and immature, that it would somehow open his fatherly instincts and tell her more. Criminals and love, she knew, was hot material to write about. People are suckers for emotions, especially the weird ones expressed by lunatics.
“I mean, haven’t you loved anyone, and been loved, don’t you feel responsibility towards them?”
“No,” his eyes darkened, “apart from my parents, I haven’t met anyone capable of loving me. I am simple incompatible with this world in that regards. Blame it on my pre-life knowledge, being heartless,or whatever you want to call it.”
Although seeing him as a vile killer, she felt sad for him. She knew very well why he was here, having done her research; ten years ago he was charged with the murder of five women. They were all drug-addicted prostitutes, all colored, except his last. And it was this change in M.O. that had been his downfall, as his white victim came from a family that were powerful enough to push the police force to do a proper investigation.
The detectives had linked the murders upon discovering the alleviated levels of ketamine in the women’s bodies. Knowing this they had been able to pin-point him as he was the only one with access to these amount of quantities large enough to force overdoses in this many victims. He had forged papers in hopes of explaining his use, but they had quickly fallen through in court.
Not that difficult to work out, she had noted, but the fact that it was the white woman’s death that had triggered the investigation annoyed her. As a colored woman herself, she knew very well of the underlying racism implied. She had noted it again when reading the court proceedings, as her subject had not been sentenced with a death penalty.
He was a white, elderly male of high stature, having a medical license and working at a private clinic. His defense lawyers were able to drum up enough sympathy that they had been able to take the death penalty off the table. Furthermore, they had used his crazy story as proof that he was delusional, and suited better in a psychiatric hospital then in jail.
As he sat across here, freely sitting in his chair, and playing with his beard, he did not seem delusional at all. But then again, he had killed five women with ketamine, a drug that can produce near-death experience, and it was this feature he had chased apparently. He had hypothesized that giving them a near-death experience, to the point of actually pushing them towards death with an overdose, would give them a glimpse of there. After a short amount of time he had tried to counter the overdose by treating them, but had failed each time.
“Could you tell me about your victims?” She questioned. It seemed only logical after his self-description as heartless.
“Failures, all of them.” He responded quickly. “None of them were able to cross that line between life and death, and come back to tell their tale of it. I suspect it has something to do with their profession. It can be a harrowing business, after all, so I think they didn’t have enough will to take the stride back. I was a fool to not take that into consideration when choosing my subjects, and here I am paying the price.”
“You’re paying the price for killing five innocent women, and it’s a very cheap bill you were left with.” she replied, not as furious as her emotions initially would have her, but not as calm as she would have wanted either. So much for naivety.
“What’s wrong?” He snickered, “Struck a nerve, did I?”
Not that she was going to admit it, but yes, he had. One of the victims had been a mother, and as she thought of her own child at home, it was a grievous insult to call the victim a failure because she didn’t meet his expectations. She could only think of all the lost expectations the motherless child was left with.
She felt her mood soured as she was reminded of her boy. She didn’t want to be here, in this padded room, as dull colored as only hospitals manage. She longed back to her apartment, to embrace her sweetheart and let her know that mom would do anything for him, even interview heartless psychopaths so that she could publish something again. Not proud of her writings the latter years, she was still to proud to change line of work.
“We’re not talking about me. We’re here for you, and what may be your choice to let your story be heard.” Playing on his pride had been her strategy from the start, and she was betting it would take her further.
“Yes,” he leaned back into his chair, “yes, you’re right.”
Never lose faith in men’s pride, she thought to herself.
“Well, to make you better understand me, perhaps I shall tell about what’s there. That other reality I so long for, that finally pushed me to the experiments that led me her.”
Never going to say killing, are you, she thought, letting go an unnoticeable sigh.
“It’s a bit difficult to explain, as its features are seldom comparable to anything of this reality. Actually, I’ve discovered that terminology from video-games are useful in doing this. I trust a young woman such as yourself know your games, but I’ll try to keep it as easy as possible.
“Take the concept of birth for example. It does not exist over there. You simply exist, knowing of no start nor pro-creators. Neither are there any concept of growing, as the only long-term variable that changes is the experience you amass.
“Time is of no great meaning, but there are cycles. You could call them days, but it would betray the initial meaning, as there are no sun to produce day and nights. Rather, everything is somewhat luminous, so you’re able to distinguish features. For example, something very close would be bright, while things far away are faded.
“Death does not function there as it does here; if you die, you merely wait for a new cycle to emerge. But it isn’t a waiting that is experienced, no, you simply experience it as instantaneously re-emerging upon the new cycle starting. If you were to live when the cycle ends, you still re-emerge somewhere else, spawning a new scenario.
“Each scenario is different, but there are certain features that are always present. One of them is a glowing hexagonal bipyramid that floats, somewhat like star. As cycles went by, and standards amassed among the inhabitants, it became a meeting ground of sort.”
“Wait,” she interrupted, “the inhabitants? You mean there were others there as well?”
“Oh yes, we were many inhabitants. Maybe infinite, I suspect, as I would never meet any individual twice. Well, it could be, as distinguishing features were difficult to ascertain. We were in fact all feature-less, reduced to merely luminous shapes that all looked alike. And no, we didn’t superficially look like humans, with extremities like legs, arms and a head. We were simply globes of light moving around.
“We communicated with what can only be described as telepathy. But the messages wasn’t conveyed as one individual speaking to another, it was more like a hive mind, in that your thoughts and messages manifested and were uttered as groups.
“At some point it became somewhat of a standard to meet up the star, and find out what to do. Sometimes it was decided that we would try to explore our raison d’être, our purpose for being there, and we would split into groups we thought were meaningful and try to have dialogues, if you really can call it that, to see if we could reason new knowledge.
“But it was futile, we found no meaning in our existence, and although we as a mass were the most all-knowing entity I can possibly think of, we were unable to get to know our reality. So it was only reasonable that our favorite activity became playing around.”
“I’m guessing that your type of games were not quite like what we define as games here?” she asked, assimilating his lingo, trying to lure him with empathy.
“Not so far off actually. At least, the games I enjoyed the most were war-games. After meeting up we would split into groups based on some random property, like who believed there to be a designer behind our reality, or whether or not it was just all random.”
“You fought based on whether you were religious or not?” she gave him a wink, “Not so unlike humans after all. Let me guess, you fought based on different ideas of the designer as well?”
“No, not really, as I can’t really describe it as being religious, it being no traditions or guidelines to follow. No, we didn’t lower ourselves to trying to control each other with made-up stories about a greater being watching over us. It was merely a question whether or not the reality from which we derived our experiences were somehow designed or not.”
She felt her repulse for him increase yet again. Identifying as a pragmatic agnostic, she recollected the times her work had let her to speak to hard-core atheists that belittled religion the same way as he did. She snidely remarked in her notebook how she could use this to poke at those atheists.
“There were in fact no attempts at gaining control over others, as there were nothing to gain from it. As I said, we probably never met twice, and if we did, there were just no reason to force another to do anything. We functioned as a group, sometimes numbering millions, and upon each new cycle, we were forced to start something anew, forming a new consensus.
“One thing we came skilled at though, ironically, was killing each other. Or, should I say, ending the cycle for others. It was not the result of wanting to exert power, but simply based on having fun. It did not have any consequence, after all. Although physics were different then here, being crushed between two solid objects would, well, squeeze you to death. Moving an object into another’s position with enough momentum, and that could end you as well, meaning we could fire projectiles at each other.
“One more essential fact is that we would either implode or explode upon dying. Whether or not we collapsed or expanded in mass correlated to the number of individuals you had been part of killing. So if your group had ended many others, you would give off enough energy upon dying that you very well could drag your neighbors into your demise.
“An interesting side-effect of this is that you could disguise yourself with objects so as to remove your presence, and then proceed to navigate into a group, and then crush yourself, which then triggered an explosion that could prove particularly effective in larger groups.”
She felt the bitter taste in her mouth. “And we’re back to the suicide bombings.” The manner of his nonchalant explanation was getting to her. She tried to not think about the many victims of the atrocities of suicide bombs, but the pictures she had seen so many times were welling up in her mind.
“Yes, but as I mentioned, our suicides cannot be compared with those of religious fanatics.” he stopped, weighing his words a bit, then continued. “Understand this. Although I consider myself an outsider, I nevertheless have enjoyed and am enjoying my time here. With my perfect memory I can recollect any sensation throughout my life, and there have been many. From my adventures with sex to the euphoric trips I’ve had with narcotics. Let me tell you, when you have experienced as much as I have, and you can replay them at any time, you don’t really care that your current lodgings is a hospital with strict regulations for contact with the outside world.
“The outside world… “ Again, pausing as to recollect his thought. “With all its failures.” He knew how to choose his words to antagonize her.
“With all of the options given to you, you still succumb to the boring parts of life. You pride yourselves in staying clean, to bring up another generations of fools that follows the same hopeless patterns. Grow up, do your chores, get an education, make a living, find a suitable mate, have children, and grow up old knowing that you’ve done your part of the human perpetual machine.
“Although I admit this situation is not ideal, I feel that I have experienced what I need to live by happily. I’ve traveled the world, from its higher points in Asia and South-America to its wast lands in Australia, Africa, North-America and Europe. I haven’t been to the Arctics or Antarctica, as they are much to cold for my taste.
“I could never let my self fall to the level of a common life. It’s simply to repetitive, and boring, it would make me crazy! Well, crazier, some would probably say.”
She gave him a smirk. His sense of self-conception wasn’t to far off at least. But she had let his self-glorification gone off long enough. Time to shed some lights on “his failures”.
“I understand that you’re quite satisfied with yourself, all things considered.” she swirled her pen in the air, as to make his current living condition clear. “But what about your failures?” She wouldn’t allow him his words on the matter, his victims were not the failures, him killing them was. “As I understand it, you didn’t learn anything useful from their passing. What does that fact make you feel.”
“It makes me feel sad.” he granted her. “An emotion I’m not particularly fond of, and one starting to overshadow the others. Having so many successes behind me, being unsuccessful in these experiments are causing me grief.
“As you already know, the experiments were to confirm my suspicion that upon dying we would return to that other place. With all of this knowledge, it would be sad to loose it all to the act of simply dying. Or, to be more exact, not the dying in and off itself, but whatever comes after it. If it were to be nothing, I at least am going to live as long as I can, to enjoy myself to the extent possible.”
He looked down, slipping his arms down into his lap, turning his palms upwards. She got a glimpse of how old and tired he was, his veins streaming across his paper-thin skin. His thoughts of dying was indeed putting a strain on him.
“I have a hypothesis that my existence has proven that… the system, in lack of better words, is bugged. Either a very rare one, or perhaps more common that I would like to believe. Either that I’m the exceptional rare case that proves it, by transitioning into this world of flesh and blood, with the bug being that my memory stayed intact. Maybe there is a place of souls, waiting between iterations of living. But on doing the transition, both from the one to the other, and vice versa, all memories are usually wiped.
“Now, as a man of science, I can’t really give credit to the idea of souls. At least not the one pertaining in the christian ideology, where it would go to heaven or hell based on a persons actions. I’ve also yet to find a good scientific explanation to how I have attained my memories, the brain being the organ that it is, undergoing growth from simplicity to complexity as all other organs, and I cannot perceive how it is capable of containing my knowledge upon conception.
“It was this question that led me into medicine in the first place. I specialized in obstetrics and have delivered thousands of children in my time. An experience leading to my decision of volunteer childless, by the way; seeing all those parents having to devote their lives to such an intrusive and all-encompassing entity. Not a part of my bucket-list, to say the least.
“I’ve shared aspects of this curiosity with colleagues within other fields of expertise, but it hasn’t revealed any more insights. The whole 21 grams theory did entice me for a while, and I admit I did try to add finesse to the theories of Duncan MacDougall upon doing my experiments.”
“You mean you weighed your victims upon dying?” she shockingly exhaled, this was not something that had been revealed in court proceedings. She almost felt ashamed for her thrill.
“That’s the essence of it. But as the point of death is difficult to pin-point, it became difficult to note for certain. If anything, a couple seemed to weigh more, so those notes became more a curiosity.
“But these are mere side-notes. What is important is to gain insights with my experiments, to better be able to form my theory.”
“Was,” she interjected. “Was to gain insights. Your experiments ended ten years ago.”
“Nevertheless,” he responded grudgingly, “my questions are still unanswered, leaving much to be wanted. Am I a bug, or am I the usual exception that is eradicated as to not poison the pool of souls? This is the only other conclusion I can derive, as I have yet to meet any other individual with an experience close to that of mine. Neither here nor there. And I am afraid that I don’t believe in unique coincidences.”
She felt at sudden hesitance of what he wanted to speak of next. She understood.
“Why haven’t you… made the transition yet?” she prompted. “Why haven’t you… ended this experience?”
He looked down, showing a glimmer of humanity as his eyes swelled. Quickly, he raised his hands and wiped the moisture around his eyes.
“You must excuse me. The truth, even though I don’t like to admit it, is that I am human. In this, I am no better then the rest. I am still afraid of death. Of what might come, or rather, not come.
“I infer that even if I were successful in confirming there being the destination after dying, there is a big chance of me not experiencing it. Either I am the deviation of rule, destined to remain intact upon transitioning, or I am lost, either into the void altogether, or with my memories wiped.”
How ironic, she thought, that his pride in a perfect memory and self-deceived perception of reality would be his greatest source of shame. And what a coward, to not just end it, and take his chances. Instead he had killed five innocents to satisfy his yearnings of certainty.
She felt tired. After all said and done, she concluded, this all came down to being afraid of death. Not very original, and not a popular topic to write about. She sighed, positioning her pen next to her notepad, and fastened her eyes upon him.
“Thank you for this interview,” she started, “it has been enlightening.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to know more?” he replied, somewhat disappointed.
“No, I’m good. I’m quite certain I understand you well enough to give you and your story justice.”
“I highly doubt it.” he ended with a smirk.
After the conversation he was followed out of the room in chains. Seeing the old man leaving clothed with all that iron felt unreal to her, as she surmised him being to frail to do any damage whatsoever.
The guard had offered her a ride home, seeing as the shift was ending anyway. She didn’t have a car, and it had started raining, so she accepted the invitation. She felt bad for continuing her deception that she would show some gratitude for all the help she’d received, but the guard was gullible, and she didn’t think she was in any danger of continuing it. If any displeasure should arise, she would point out that helping her into the hospital was less of a problem for her then it would be for the guard.
The car came up next to her, the guard leaned over and opened the door, gesturing her to step inside. She dropped herself into the passenger seat. As she was about to turn her face to express gratitude, she felt strong fingers fastening around her neck, and with a sudden sting, she felt the world turn into darkness.
The darkness prevailed once she regained consciousness. Her confusion quickly turned into fright as her senses revealed that someone was nearby. Suddenly a light turned on, to bright for her senses to cope with, and she was once again thrown into disarray. Through the immense headache, she could hear a familiar voice.
“Good, you’ve awakened.” the guard started. “You need to be present in body and mind for this next part. Are you feeling ok?”
The question surprised her.
“What the fuck do you think?” she snapped, “Let me the fuck go!”
She wasn’t a fan of profanity, but it was the only way she felt she could empower herself in her situation.
“I’m afraid that’s not possible. The master wouldn’t be very happy with that, no, not happy at all. Another specimen going to waste, as he would put it.”
The terror dawned upon her. That’s why he had used present tense earlier. She started panicking, trying to wiggle herself out the straps that held her down.
“That won’t do you any good.” her jailer reminded her, “The quicker you accept the situation, the better. It might also improve your odds. Master thought you worthy of this, after all, so you should feel honored. He hypothesize that your understanding of the experiment may actually help you in your forthcoming journey.”
“My baby!” she cried out, “I can’t leave him! Please, don’t do this, I beg of you, no good can come out of this!”
“On the contrary, my beauty, enormous good can come out of this. Think of it, to know for certain what comes after death. It would revolutionize our understanding of reality. No longer any need for the illusion of heaven or hell, or any other afterlife envisioned throughout the ages. As I said, you should feel honored for this possibility of becoming the first conscionaut. Yeah yeah, I know, not a real word, but you’ll see, when you succeed your journey, and tell the world of it, I’ll be famous for coining that term.
“And considering your child, think of him as another anchor that connects you to this world. Remember him once you’ve crossed the threshold of life and death, and you need the extra motivation for the journey back. As master’ve surmised, the journey is hard, so you need all the motivation you can get. Luckily you don’t have any history of drug abuse, as the other subjects, so you should have an advantage.”
She was crying throughout it all. She wanted to be courageous, in fact, she felt almost ashamed that this was her reaction, merely wailing her desperation unto deaf ears. But it was hopeless, and she felt powerless.
Her assailant waited for her “to become clean” of the drug she’d been pacified in the car. It was the longest wait she’d ever experienced, and throughout it all the guard tried to convince her that she should actually feel honored. Once she tried flipping the coin, that she should instead help her capturer to embark on the journey. But alas, it proved no change in the course this was heading.
In the beginning she’d screamed her lungs out, to which her mouth had been taped shut. After being removed the first time, she’d stayed calm for a bit until she’d screamed again. But she realized that the room she was in had been made soundproof, and she had calmed herself again.
In the end she tried to stay calm as the guard injected her with ketamine. When the effects started taking hold, she continued to stay calm. And by the time she started drifting, she embraced the feeling of acceptance. The experience was unnerving, feeling as she was both present and lost in her abducted state. At some point, her straps were removed, and she could move freely. The thought of escaping tempted her, but she quickly realized she was in no state to overpower her capturer.
Once the visions had started, she knew she was way out of it. Her perceptions was melting into each other, watching sounds becoming structures, smells carrying noise, colors turning into a feast in her mouth. And at all time, she was aware of how crazy this all was.
She was experiencing herself from a point dislocated from her body when she felt a stream of liquid pulling her down. First it was mildly comforting, but as it increased in strength she felt more and more at harm. The panic took hold of her once she realized she was no longer in control of her body, and she couldn’t react to the immense pressure that was pulling her down.
Suddenly a black hole opened beneath her, and she started disintegrating into its pull. This was it, she thought, and suddenly she could think of nothing else but her baby. She’d visited the joyous feeling of thinking about her throughout her trip, but now she hold onto her love for her bare life.
Suddenly, her son appeared before her. They were surrounded by the universe, not as the real thing she noted, as that would be mostly dark and dull, but that of a bright and starry sky. Her son raised his arm, offering to hold hands. She stretched out her arms as to join hands, and realized she was drifting away from him.
Her arms slowed down, as she felt her strength leaving her, and the panic set in once more. She was being pulled apart, away, and into nothingness. She felt her mind loosening, she was on the brink of life itself.
“Don’t worry,” her son shared with her, “I believe in you. You can do this.”
She felt a surge of strength, and joined her hands with his. Slowly, her descend turned into a halt. As she stopped, she smiled back at her son. His smile filled her with joy, and she felt safe.
And then she noticed it behind him.
A luminous shape floating in the distance.
A hexagonal bipyramid?