An Immortal in Exile

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I walk across the beach, following the ever-shifting outline of the water. The sun has begun to set; the sky is blossoming with fire. I watch the surf churn and froth as it rolls in and out. I find the waves contemplative. They comfort me, draw me into myself as the water is always, inevitably, drawn back into the sea. I step into the tide on a whim, and cool briny water surrounds my legs, sometimes splashing as high as my knees.

I stub my toe on a rock and a sharp staccato curse escapes my lips. It tears me away from my center, and for a moment, I wonder at the fragile nature of my body. I look down, spot a chunk of granite half buried in the sand and pick it up. I hold it toward the light, examine the structure closely. I was there, I think, when it was formed, when the Earth itself was just a rock hurtling through the cosmos. I toss it back into the ocean and watch it land with a plop.

I try to remember the distant past, and sometimes I can almost glimpse the life beyond. But so much of who and what I am is inaccessible to me. I am an ocean, of which my humanity is only a remnant small enough to be caught in a glass jar. Like Jesus in the New Testament, I have a dual nature. I am both human and divine.

I have assumed many forms, have lived many lives spanning the gamut of time and space. Like light through a prism, I have been split apart, reduced to a broken spectrum of partial selves. I have inhabited countless worlds, existed as many species, loved and lost a thousand times for every star that’s ever burned in the sky.

I drift from one life to the next, a cosmic vagrant, the fullness of my being always just out of reach. I only ever know what I need to fulfill my current life’s purpose. I must regard everything else as a mystery.

I am an Immortal, but before the gas clouds of this universe had even condensed into stars, I was exiled. The scope and nature of my crimes are lost to me, incomprehensible to my present form. I only know that I must atone. I strive in each life to make my brethren proud, because I know they’re watching and await my return. I know that someday I will redeem myself, that there will come a time when I will finally die my last death.

A wave rolls in, this one particularly strong, and I panic as I picture the sea preparing to swallow me whole.

I often imagine ways that I could die. It amazes me that after so many lives on so many different worlds, I could still fear something so banal. But my frail human psyche has bound me hand and foot to the dictatorship of instinct, and I must endure the biological imperative to survive like everyone else.

During the night, I write. It’s the only way I can confront the shadows that haunt me in the small hours, the only way for me to give them form and expression. It’s my way of capturing small remnants of who I was. Yet words are imprecise, and there are so many thoughts that are inexpressible, transcendent, atoms of being that predate my humanity.

I gaze up. The sun is gone now, the sky transparent to the cosmos. I drink it in, eternal mysteries that are no longer mine to understand. I utter a silent prayer, a plea for mercy that I hope my kind will hear, and I accept by faith that they do.

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The Machine

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If you listen carefully you can hear it, the low bass rumble of hulking iron gears winding behind a cosmic curtain, beyond space and time. It sustains the universe, scaffolds reality. Once, when the machine was new, when it was well oiled and regularly maintained, it made little sound at all, just a gentle soothing hum that saturated the universe with newborn energy.

But gradually, almost imperceptibly, the steady nearly-silent rhythm began to change. At first, it was just a tiny ping in the engine. Then the oil began to burn and the gears began to grind. Yet the machine continued to operate to specification, and the universe chugged along for another fourteen billion years.

Then the ball bearings gave out. The machine started to crack and squeak, and the universe began to spoil. Stars began to lose their heat. Gravity began to lose its pull. Time warped and stretched like taffy. All the while that incessant squealing permeated the cosmos, driving men, women and beings of indeterminate gender mad.

Finally, the timing belt snapped and the whole thing unravelled. There was a crash, a thud and the machine simply stopped running. Reality wavered. Faded. Disappeared.

For ages the machine sat in disrepair, silent and still, ruined and forgotten in the darkness outside creation. Then its maker stumbled onto it while seeking parts for another project. He considered leaving it, for he was a busy man. But nostalgia seized him, and he was overtaken by an unexpected sadness.

He toiled in endless dark. He replaced the timing belt and the ball bearings. He lubricated the sensitive inner workings. He filled the reservoir with a fresh carton of oil.

When at last he was finished he flipped the switch. The machine spun to life, and the universe was new once more. And in the background, permeating space and time, was that familiar, ever-present hum.

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Grace

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Grace clutches a ragged teddy bear to her chest. It reminds her of her parents. The memories are bittersweet.

She gazes up, squints when her eyes reach the bright lines of yellow light that penetrate the wooden slats a hundred feet above. She blinks away tears.

She sidles to the right, her long dress brushing the dirt beneath her legs, and she feels the tug of iron chains binding her to the stone wall. She expects it, though it continues to fill her with despair. She returns to her previous position and the chains slacken. She closes her eyes and dozes.

She never meant them harm. She came after her parents died and left her orphaned in the woods outside their village. They took her in, fed her, clothed her. They took her to church. Taught her to pray. Then they discovered she was different.

They called her a demon. Spat on her. Beat her. Dug a prison beneath the earth, clapped her in chains and left her there to rot.

For the first few days she’d cried out in disbelief. Trembling and wailing, she begged them between racking sobs to take her back. She promised to be good, but nobody listened. She was an uncomfortable truth that was better off buried and forgotten.

She heard their whispers, knew they expected her to die. Yet years passed without food or water and she survived. They said it was unnatural, that she was the spawn of Satan. Every now and then, one of them would gaze down through the wooden slats, peer into her tear-streaked eyes and look away.

A generation passed. The children grew up and ventured out in search of a better life, and one by one the remaining inhabitants grew old and died. The last of them to peer down into her prison had white wispy hair and a thin grey beard. He cocked his head at her, hesitated, moved closer as if wondering what to do. Then he gritted his teeth, clutched his chest, closed his eyes and collapsed.

The first years of her life had been filled with love and light. She’d danced beneath the trees, sustained by the sun, the wind, the earth and the sky, a child of wild nature-born magic. But bound beneath the earth in isolation, her good nature soured. Her heart grew hard, and spite consumed her until her only wish was to set the world on fire, to look on with delight as the skin of those who imprisoned her crackled, blistered and popped.

She knows that one day she’ll be free. Perhaps her chains will rust through completely and she’ll dig herself out. Or perhaps someone will wander by unknowing and rescue her. It’s only a matter of time.

Grace dons a wicked smile.

The villagers could have bred a saint. Instead, they bred a monster.

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Friday Freewrite

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What’s Friday Freewrite? Find out here.

Sometimes, when I realize something about myself, I wonder if what I’ve seen is true or if it’s just a vain reflection catching sight of another reflection. I feel like my soul exists in a hall of mirrors, capturing all the worst and most superficial aspects of myself and reflecting them back in disproportionate and grotesque detail.


Sometimes, even our search for the truth, the most noble, intimate, vulnerable and purposeful aspect of our soul, becomes corrupted, a vanity, a parody of a search that enjoys all the trappings and adornments of associated with a searching soul while the soul itself has refused to search any longer.


I look in the mirror, a broken battered version of my former self1, and I recoil back at the hideous visage that stares back at me, so alien in appearance.

My soul, blackened like my face, peers outward, coroded2.

I want to die.


Footnotes

1. This one is fictional, not autobiographical.

2. Should be spelled corroded.

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How Do We Vanquish Evil?

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Evil. The world groans under its weight. It surrounds us, holds us hostage. Like a choking vine, it slithers through our cities and our streets, latching onto our souls, squeezing the love and the life out of them until we’ve grown jaded and hard of heart.

The seeds of this deadly vine are our uncharitable acts, our lies, gossip, and petty acts of vengeance. The world burns by our own hands, and all we can do is look away, ashamed, wondering in the darkest corners of our souls if the world might be better off without us, if the only true remedy for the problem of evil is to purge the Earth of humanity.

There’s another part of the human heart, the nobler part. It knows we’re capable of better. We might blight the world with the stain of evil, but that doesn’t mean we’re without hope. We want to be better, to make the world better, not just for ourselves but for our children and for theirs.

But when we face the evil within ourselves, when we stare it square in the eyes and prepare to do battle with ourselves, we discover an unsettling truth. Deep down, we don’t want to change. It’s not that we don’t want to be good, just that we’re too afraid and too weak to change our old habits. So we bury our heads in the sand. We rarely examine our actions or our motives, and when we do, we usually shy away in discomfort.

But because we still want to feel noble, because we want to look in the mirror and see a gallant soldier who fights in the names of Justice and Truth, we focus not on the evil within ourselves but on the evil we find in others.

We make it our life’s mission to expose and discredit the evildoer, hoping and praying that such an undertaking will somehow cleanse us of our own sins. But in our zeal, we burn our fellow human beings at the stake. We accuse others with or without basis and destroy reputations. We seek revenge and call it justice. We dehumanize our enemies, convince ourselves and others that they’re only soulless caricatures of humanity. We smite the accused and watch with glee as the lifeblood pours from their veins. We revel in their demise, convinced we’ve made the world a better place.

But by crusading so fervently against the sins of others, by delighting in the wholesale destruction of other humans like ourselves, we’ve succeeded only in growing the evil within ourselves.

The only true way to eliminate evil is to start with our own hearts, to root it out at the source before it has the chance to spread. We must be brave enough and strong enough to examine ourselves, to face our own darkness. We must experience genuine remorse, and in the aftermath of our guilt we must resolve to start anew, to rebuild ourselves from the ground up, to become better and more complete human beings.

Only once we’ve started on the path toward inner sanctity can we begin to address the evil in others, not by shaming and vanquishing them but by loving and encouraging them to shed their own darkness. We must love our enemies. By showing mercy and compassion, by offering our affection and support, we can inspire others to undertake a similar journey.

We live in a fallen world. It pressures us to do wrong, threatens us with punishment if we attempt to do what’s right. We should instead strive for an ecosystem in which love and charity can flourish.

Our worldly experience suggests that evil is inevitable. But the truth is that it can only survive by deceiving us into believing we can destroy evil with more evil. Love on the other hand is inevitable. It’s all-encompassing, all reaching. It’s universal and can be known through instinct alone. A single act of love is one thousand times as potent as the greatest evil.

Love is a fire. It catches, spreads, razes evil where it stands. But it require light to flourish, and if we languor too long in the dark it will shrivel and die.

Want to make the world a better place? Acknowledge your own faults. Face your demons. You shouldn’t wallow in a state of perpetual guilt, but neither should you turn away from your own ugliness. Each of us is sullied, but once we’ve recognized the stain for what it is we have the opportunity to wipe it away. And once you’ve started down that path, you’ll never be the same.

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