Chapter: Finding the Path

Entry: Jul 11, 2007

Again, the churn. The landscape rippled beneath Kyle's gaze, tendrils undulating in spasmatic jerks as if in the throes of death. Limbs and organs pulsating to a foul rhythm, illustrating a haunting dirge borne by silent wails and lamenting whimpers.

Hi, Hell. H, e, double hockey-sticks. That's the place. Stroll on down and take your free eternal torment; sorry, no refunds. The memories caught up with Kyle, as they always did. In this place, the ruins of Old Town and the distorted creatures writhing behind corroded mesh, were hand in hand—old friends, after a fashion—forming a welcoming committee for good 'ol Kyle.

Only this time, there was no Old Town. Nor Olde Towne, or Nolde Towen, fierce bastion of gnashing terrors. Just agonized, piteous mewling echoing into the boundless, coal-black sky, issued from lazily rising and falling waves, rocking the world to perpetual nightmare with a tune sung by the devil in his crib. Only that, and nothing else. This place that drank Kyle's attention like so much coagulated blood, offered no solid wall or structure as anchor, and so he drifted among the ocean of damned, held aloft only because he was not yet among them.

Until Kyle spied something in the distance. It tilted like the Tower of Pisa, but glinted like steel; a dying man's knife thrust into a desert dune before he ran blindly into a mirage. But that doomed wraith must be a giant, for it cast a perceptible shadow on the bodies below, and it shone with its own unlikely brilliance. But unlike Kyle, who stood on magically solid ground though it bucked and slithered past his shoes, the jutting tower tilted back and forth, bobbing in the cruel sea without a tether. It's part of this, he guessed.

Without any other destination available, he shrugged and started a slow jog toward the metal column, hoping it wasn't like the schoolhouse, tantalizing and universally corrupt. The closer he got, the more its familiarity chipped at his senses. A row of mostly broken windows ticked up the left side, and a mottled silver sheen traveled the right. After that, Kyle thought he could see rusty wheels searching in vain for a railroad track. A train car? But there was light inside, seeping from windows and a lone vertical door halfway buried in the death below. It wasn't like the school, gleaming like fool's gold in the sun. The train car was lit from inside, and Kyle felt safe approaching.

This became much easier when he saw an old woman peer through the door, look left, then right, then withdraw again into her ridiculous haven. Another person? Here? Well, it could definitely be worse. Kyle decided any person was a vast improvement over the crawling void everywhere else. So inside he went.

The second his shoe scuffed the relatively clean grated floor, the old woman looked up from an imposing control-panel and smiled at him. "'bout time you showed up," she said, badly suppressing a titter.

Is this lady nuts? "Uh, hi," he offered, unsure. "Where are we?" he wondered openly. It was a fair question, since it wasn't the Old Town he remembered, and the frigging train car drifting like an old fishing lure deserved a notch or two on the old weird-o-meter.

She just shook her head and pulled a rusty wire-cutter from a chest pocket in her faded and frayed denim coveralls. She turned away and shuffled oldly to another access panel, where she jammed in a large caricature of a skeleton key. She looked at Kyle and jogged her head toward the panel, while she twisted the key and swung open the wide door to expose a nasty mess of dusty wires. "C'mon kid, I can't yell at ya way over there. We need to talk, you and I."

Still skeptical, Kyle assented and climbed further into the jagged vehicle. He stopped just shy of striking distance, unwilling to risk his skin just yet. "Yeah?"

She didn't even look at him before muttering a soft chuckle. "I don't bite, Kyle, but I understand. You've been plagued here, I'll give you that." She said this while pulling out a thick insulated cable and attacking it with her ultimately dull cutters, which chewed unevenly through the protective mesh and heavy-gauge conduit like a pair of wooden dentures.

Most questions related to this nightmare fled his mind just then. What was she doing? "Uh... are you trying to fix this thing?" He looked around again, trying to answer that question himself. Nope, no way. A subway car?

"Just so," she agreed. "I'm fixing it, because I can, here. If it were on the tracks, it would just be in the way. Here, I have all the time in the world, because there isn't any—time, that is." She continued fighting with the cutters and the wire until the uncooperative cable broke in two; she celebrated with a hearty woo. "I tell ya, this would be a whole lot easier if everything wasn't dead here."

Great, she answered my question and now I have about twenty more. "But... why–"

"Because it gives us something to talk about, Kyle!" she interrupted. "If I just wandered up to you out here, you'd think I was a witch or worse. Besides, it'd be terribly awkward. Here, we can speak naturally, and I can work on this old bucket: a side-project of mine for the past couple years." She paused then, looking forlorn at the cable in her hand. "But I think I picked the wrong place... the thing is degrading faster than I can fix it. This place makes acid look like water."

"Acid?" Kyle really was overwhelmed at the heavy bombardment of information, so he parroted the last thing he understood. Acid's easy to understand: melts and burns material by weakening molecular cohesion, stealing weakly bonded atoms just as sugar sweetens tea. Kyle imagined himself as a puddle of shapeless goo and convulsed; metaphorical acid—sending the spirit of a thing, its scaffolding and sacred Id, to shimmering ghosts of former souls. Even inanimate objects corroded and failed, erased from existence by callous, sentient entropy.

"Yup," she nodded, "acid. Everything's dead here, Kyle. You can't see it, but it's true. Those things out there," she waved her arm absently at everything outside, "they're worse than dead. The longer you stay here, the more you die, little by little." It's a frame of reference, her look said, and without an ego, everything is formless.

Her presence made him wish he were never born. Her body spoke of lost millenia, her posture, broken futures. It was oppressive, and sent him to the verge of tears, to comprehend the infinity she represented crushed his spirit. Were she avatar or goddess, it mattered little; Kyle swooned. He was realizing, only too late, this little, unassuming old woman, was a herald to the end. The end of his normal life, and any remaining chance he had at being his own master.

He hated her for it—that smug assuredness she was assisting him instead of saddling him with responsibilities he didn't want, nor need. But he'd play her game, because the son of Fantastic Frank didn't lose.

Some time later, Kyle would wish that weren't true.

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