| I look over at the alarm clock sitting on my dresser drawer. The blinding radium hands read 3:26 in the morning, and the reflection off the metallic surface on which it sits is nearly just as crippling. After the initial haze of my abrupt awakening wears off, I ignite my trusty lantern, I pick up my grocery bag of dental floss from the adjacent corner, and I go to start my rather recently assigned chores. I look back at the shallow indentation my body left in the padded floor. The spot attempts to harken me back with a soft, somber melody, as if it too knows that I may not make it back. I entice this thought for a moment, thinking of how much daylight would make my job easier, but I’d rather not see everything out there anyway. Moving past this idea, and, with all of my effort, I pull down on the hatch of my overhead door. The dim fluorescent lights flicker overhead. The rickety ladder doesn’t do much in the way of keeping the lantern from scalding my back on the climb up, but the burn wounds have almost rawed my skin into complete numbness.
With every creaking step I take down the asylum corridor, the echoes saturate my brain, even as the violent visions of the enigma in which I dwell haunt my thoughts. I hope I’m alone at this hour; this scape is more akin to an MC Escher piece, and my psyche is getting worse for wear every morning. I drag my right hand against the white concrete walls, counting the deformities to practice. The winding maze finally opens up to a vast and lush evergreen forest which changes in perplexity by the hour. Not wanting to stifle any progress thus far, I tie myself off to the closest tree to the door: probably a futile effort, I realize, as I run my hands knot-wise with the frail, but delightfully minty dental floss. After only a few steps in, I stumble something awful and scrape my knee on what I hope is a rock. I can feel my heart palpitations in my throat, and I can’t even breathe. I look back. The lantern light reveals a stone that definitely wasn’t there yesterday morning. Or maybe even a few seconds ago.
I get back on my feet and dust myself off. Vaguely remembering back to the Era of the West, the blue denim pants I wore as a child would definitely have staved off such an injury, at least in part. Reaching up, I feel that my floss is still intact, so I know I have to soldier on further into the forest. I make it about fifty yards, and then I tie off on a small, inconspicuous tree as I run out of my first box of floss. The lack of a coherent path is disorienting to say the least, and my knee is definitely going to need some attention; I can feel blood dribbling down and caking on my skin. There is usually a pond just up ahead where I could make up a salve from some mashed juniper berries. Plus, the cool water could ease the burns on my back just a bit. I hear a flutter of wings above me. My trembling legs are paralyzed in fear as I tie off on the next tree as I run out again.
My presumption was correct about the pond’s location, but I definitely wasn’t expecting the Void in the middle of the water this time; it’s a few hundred yards closer than normal. A welcome surprise nonetheless. I reach up and shake the branch of an older juniper, and, like clockwork, the berries plummet to the earth. I scavenge through the bank of the pond to find a mortar and pestle of sorts to begin my concoction. The fragrance of juniper fills the air like a thick fog as my stones grind the berries into a paste. I wash my leg in the water, and rub the salve over my scrape. I don’t know if this will help or not, but waiting for the salve to dry off makes for a good minute to lay and reflect.
Staring up into the night’s sky, the dazzling array of satellites mesmerize me. They spell the scriptures in an ancient tongue that I will never understand, and I wish I wasn’t alone to see it. My amateur philosophy hour reaches a bitter end as I once again hear a flutter of wings; I slink from the bank into the water, hoping the starlight didn’t compromise my position and also hoping that my salve at least thwarted some infection. The Void rests gently above the water's edge in the center of the pond, unassumingly at that. If it weren’t for the faint, but discernible aura around it, my night ventures would be impossible to navigate.
I swim up to the entrance and dive in. The most peculiar thing about the Void is how empty it truly feels. The ever-changing substance of where I reside makes for a perturbing existence, but in the Void, there is only one manifestation, and I, being the only one of physical standing, must tend to it. Moving through the Void is, of course, ethereal. Whatever mode of transportation that has existed in other existences is not comparable to the ways on this side of the entrance. I cannot walk, nor can I run. I cannot swim, nor can I fly. The senses are similar. I can smell everything, but nothing. My taste buds are overwhelmed by the obliteration of flavor. All the nerve endings in my body coalesce into a dysmorphic blob of sensation. After a few minutes that pass like millennia in this state, I chance upon the texts that are my sworn duties. I feel the iridescence in my mind as I behold them once more. Visions of unascertainable colors fire from synapse to synapse to synapse. As I open the volumes, I notice something quite peculiar about the set, even more so from yesterday’s curation. They had a glow, as bright as the fluorescent lights in the corridor. I turn the pages as fast as I can, trying to decipher the unending letters assaulting my corneas, but to no avail. I see the word ‘VEX’ emblazoned upon the final page, and I see the whole of my realm in my hands. I can make out the pond, but it’s been dried to an oasis of sand. I can make out the forest, but it’s been burnt as a scorning flame overtakes it, leaving ash and smoke. I can make out my humble room, but the walls are the mouths of Amazons, shrilly pitched to voice slurs of the utmost vileness as my alarm clock shatters on the firm foam of that corner of the room. I can make myself out, but I am of Death, crucified, upside down, on a charred juniper tree.
I turn around to shield myself from the onslaught, only to meet the gaze of a colossal set of eyes, eyes with the same veracious authority of a Titan. Strikingly golden irises house a pair of jet black pupils, the right of which engulfs me. I clench my body in terror as the being swallows me.
Unlike the void, there is no sensation in this place. I am, however, still pained by the visions of which shall haunt my dreamscapes for eternity. Exhausted by the experience, I faint.
I come to but in quite a delirium. I awake in what must be a teardrop for I can’t breathe for fear of succumbing to the water. As I make my descent to what must be the pond below, I notice dawn in the far off distance. The scars on my back and knee ache from the salinity of the teardrop, so I remember back to the hands on my radium clock: I don’t think it read 3:26; it must have said 5:15. As the teardrop lands in the pond, I make out a headless figure adorned in regal wares surrounded by an army of lantern-bearing shadows. As I brace for impact, the salty teardrop dries the freshwater pond nearly immediately, leaving nothing to break my fall. I lay writhing in pain from my body collapsing into the sand. The shadows throw their lanterns into the foliage, and the heat from the near instant inferno agonizes me further. The figure grabs me by the scruff of my neck and slams my head down into the trunk of a juniper tree. He drives two ebony swords through my feet and hands and into the tree as the smoke of burning evergreens blights my nostrils and lungs. The sky turns pitch black in lieu of the smoke, and the stars read ‘VEX.’ The last thing I can comprehend are the shoots of pain from the stigmata in my hands and feet.
I look over at the alarm clock sitting on my dresser drawer. The blinding radium hands read 3:26 in the morning, at least I think.