Travels in the Afterlife
I am writing on the fourth of June, the year two-thousand and seventeen.
I will begin this account as I imagine it to be completed, held under duress by the volatile presence beside me of a confirmed lunatic. By which I mean to say, honestly and with constant attention to the facts.
Alongside the fable which will soon be dictated, through me, to you, the story of its first telling must also be included. My kidnapper will, I’m sure, object to my inclusion of this explanatory foreword when he finds it, but without it the proper sense could never be made of his colourful reverie by those without personal experience of its maladjusted protagonist. Unlike his obvious psychosis, my ghost-writer’s baffling appearance in this place has defied all of my attempts to grasp at its secret. Yet I hold not the slightest doubt about what I saw, as it happened mere minutes ago.
Perhaps, if I can just lay down my own experience exactly as it occurred, and while I’m at it satisfy his unhinged demands, you, my cohort behind the mirror, will be able to identify some detail, some angle, some thing, that has eluded me. Assuming, that is, that he does not attempt to spit-roast and ingest the manuscript as soon as I am done, over the crackling bonfire of my remains.
How did he do it? What a skilful conjurer he must have been in the life he led before whatever hiccup of fate turned him into the maniac that now rabidly accosts me, even as I perform his sadistic bidding, with a steady spray of words that mean absolutely nothing. What an artisan, to craft such a powerful illusion, and to perform it without a spot of falsity or underhandedness, besides the obvious. Not giving even the slightest hint that there was ever a trick performed or that you, peering up from your crevice of awareness into the blinding light, have anything whatsoever to question in his exposition.
But I find myself digressing. As I stated, I believe the solution to this riddle to be beyond my comprehension. So I leave it to you, though I encourage you to disregard the blubber-saturated mass of what you are about to read – this mess, this case study, this lie -, to divine from its skeleton the element of truth, wherever you may find it, that can account for the mentalist’s appalling intrusion upon my meditations.
* * *
On that one day a year when the weather strikes the perfect balance between sunshine and shade, the hills and lakes of England radiate a powerful aura of calm that helps to pacify the angst of the modern soul. I was seated on a tall hillside surveying the lowland forests beneath, cross-legged atop a large cube of granite, pondering the great mysteries. It was early afternoon. I had been there since dawn but had no plans to leave. Far away to my left were a series of pools glinting in the August rays, behind and above me a distant peak covered in sparse vegetation. Swifts and buzzards circled above, while distant traffic groaned from some far off motorway. The land was at peace, and so, I suppose, was I.
Suddenly, from between my feet and my groin there erupted a terrible rumble. I was instantly shaken from my daydream wherein I had been attempting to visualise Satori, as though such a thing were possible. Images of crystalline machines nesting on the outcrops of a shimmering mountain range, a golden temple atop the summit with its immovable doors adorned with shifting symbols phasing in and out of shadow, that whole raucous creation that to me seemed so divine, to which I had become so attached at the time, vanished. And I plummeted, spiralling through countless concentric horizons. My whole world swiftly contracted, and with an almighty WHOOSH I opened my eyes. After my vision had cleared of static, I looked down at where the rock had been.
In my lap there was a head.
It seemed to protrude like sprouting weeds from the cracks I now saw spread across my previously solid seat. The nape of its invisible neck resting softly on my in-turned shins, its face aglow with an expression of utter tranquillity, our eyes met for the first time. And a wave of blissful understanding seemed to travel outwards from its dewy gaze and bypass me completely, dissipating into the folds of my clothes in expectant silence.
‘Oh, excuse me’, it eventually lazed, ‘You seem to be sitting where I’m standing.’, and after a pause, with a smile that suggested the subject had been completely dropped, ‘Call me Seejie’.
My first instinct upon clocking this cheery phantasm was to leap with all the force of my legs against the stone, breaking Seejie’s neck in the process and likely my own back as well as I plummet for real this time. But either in my residual calm or my lagging terror, I did nothing, just sat there. My hands fixed to my knees, face agape with disbelief, and suddenly feeling somehow separated from my breathing, I was no longer responsible for the goings on of my body.
I observed dispassionately the way a tear-flecked shadow blew across the angular features of his very bald head, highlighting the absurdity of his already deepening grin. Eyelids continued to blink mechanically for what seemed like a long time, but when he spoke again I knew that only a moment had passed me by, and I felt somehow reimbursed.
‘Would you mind jumpin’ off for a sec’ so I can extricate myself?’
‘What nonsense is this?’ barked a voice emanating from my inner ear, before I had time to comply with his request. ‘What utter shit. Are you going to dignify this blatant hallucination by obliging it even further than you already have?’
I ignored its reproach, and it ceased to bother me almost at once. I felt it skulking away in resignation and did not look back. The situation revealing itself to me was too bizarre. My reactions instinctively took over in that desperate moment of indecision. I uncrossed my legs and slid away. Pivoting backwards onto the bank from which the rock and head protruded, I snatched up my bag and skidded down to the footpath. Turning to face him, expecting either a hairless neck or a patch of empty space, I was surprised to once again meet the iridescent stare of Seejie, not two feet between us, now facing away from the summit and as clearly sublunary as the rock which had apparently given him birth.
‘So’, he said gently as I continued to gawk for a downright impolite amount of time, ‘This is awkward, isn’t it?’
The awkwardness of the situation thus compounded, I remained silent a moment longer, attempting to analyse the shady penumbra mediating this insane fusion of the inanimate and the very much alive, but I could glean nothing from it. That inch or so below Seejie’s chin that was visible to me seemed to be at once both pink and grey, corrugated and softly smooth, alive and simultaneously… something else. There was no boundary between stone and flesh. Strangely now, when I attempt to picture exactly what I saw, it grows cloudier each time, seeming more and more like my own imagination consoling itself. What were once material facts become mere abstract speculation as they are overlaid repeatedly with their own after-images.
‘Are you OK?’
A shocking rejoinder to my silence, drawing my attention back to his slightly furrowed, but still beaming countenance. I realised that I had no idea how long I had been staring and felt unduly rude, all things considered.
‘I, um, I’m-‘
‘You’re looking a bit peaky, my friend. Why don’t you sit down? And I’ll be with you in just a moment.’
‘No. Um. What’s-? What’s happening?’
This last question asked with a more desperate twinge than I might have liked, I seemed to suddenly be occupying all sorts of interlacing low-grounds in some alien contest. It was clear that I was being challenged to a serious game – one that I seemed, already, to be losing.
Seejie continued to smile just the same.
‘I’m gonna remove myself from this block if you don’t mind. So step back, ‘cos it might explode.’
I stepped back anyway, and what I saw next, Reader, you will not believe.
With one final glint he closed his eyes, and, I swear, a sudden stillness descended upon the mountain. My clothes felt heavy. My oesophagus was distracted, trapped in the middle of a dry swallow that wouldn’t end, but all the rest of my attention focused itself solely on Seejie. How to describe it… One moment it was just a rock, jutting from a hill. The next, it was so much more.
All at once, a rapidly inflating mushroom cloud of sensation erupted somewhere in our small arena. The division between me and the events unfolding sank away. The rock and my nemesis’ head, along with their pastoral backdrop, quickly phased out of visual clarity and gained an unnatural haze like a stranger’s face in a drug-addled dream. I blinked and squinted to no effect. The un-focus only continued to spread.
Spherical waves seemed to pulse outward from the blur which was my focus, leaking into the surrounding blurs, detaching them. Shapes like prehistoric monsters tunnelled and burrowed beneath everything, leaving no imprint but a shiver like a finger drawn across an expectant spine – nausea given form. Time was stopped, but the motions of inanimation grew and grew, exceeding the physical objects which had previously seemed of such great importance. This was something of a different nature to my own, but was there any way to know exactly what I saw? Was it possible that this was all some sort of elaborate trick? In that crepuscular, glowing eternity, I feared not.
Utterly frozen, I could do nothing but watch and allow myself to be caressed and coddled by this insanity as it washed over me. I stared blankly as the greyish fuzz that can only have been the rock started to bubble and boil. Great flaps of it began to peel and melt away in all directions, some floating off into the sky, others draining like rainwater into the mud. What looked like pulsating veins and dense fibril networks could just about be glimpsed swarming beneath the saturated shades of grey as they fled the scene.
It was all too much. With the last of my sanity, I prayed for it to stop. And strangely enough, after only a few more seconds, it did. The bombardment slowed and then ceased. The monsters calmly retreated without a trace. The disarrayed components of reality expertly reorganised themselves, and I was left gazing through the residual phase at the no longer disembodied head of my still-beaming interloper.
There he stood, bollock naked and a bit slimy, fully before me like a dreadful mirage. Either I or the air between us was still dizzy and wavering. The conduits and viaducts of my rational mind were clogging under their inability to accept the information passed over by my crying senses. And the smile, that terribly detached smile, continued to grow still larger in my mind. It grew and grew until it seemed to occupy all the available space in the universe. I feared that I would fall through the great canyons between those yellow teeth and be swallowed straight down into the belly of madness.
I seemed to lose consciousness for a moment, and what filled my vision next scared the life clean out of me. Half-framed in hairy forearms, hot breath excoriating my skin, a pair of arid lips parted from my own with a dry ‘pop’. A face I almost recognised came into half-focus, eyes closed, exhaling. I was so totally lost for words that in that horrendous moment, with foreign palms tightly gripping my ears, that I did something I now deeply regret.
Without thinking, I slammed an errant knee with brutal force directly into Seejie’s nads. My head was free. He staggered and fell, clutching his balls in heartrending agony. I gasped and grimaced and curled my fists. The wind raked the Autumn leaves. Seejie rolled and snarled, eventually freeing up his hands to both prop him up onto all fours to face me and to draw from some unseen place a gnarly, ridged, fluorite-coloured dagger about six inches long. Aiming it at me, he spattered something unintelligible, and I knew from the look on his face that I was fucked. The smile had finally vanished.
Clambering back to his feet, still clutching his aching plums, Seejie took a wide-legged stance and continued to breathe heavily, jarring the knife outstretched in front of him like a flag pole swaying in the wind. Eventually he spoke:
‘Whyyy?’ The dagger indicated my head. ‘We just met! All I’ve done is be nice to you. Ahhhh. Do you think I wanted this? Think I chose to arrive in this exact spot on my way back through infinite time and space, just to interrupt your precious alone time? Who even are you?!’
I could feel myself shrinking before the torrent about to course my way.
‘Ahhh, this is the warm welcome I get. Of course. I’ve been asleep for a hundred lifetimes, you know. It was very peaceful… allowed me to reflect and appreciate. Now all I can think about is my bloody ruptured ball-sack! You could never understand what I’ve been through. The old man showed me how to rise above it all, the hate and blame. I’d made my peace, but you know what, ahhh, this does it! I’ve had enough!’.
My eyes darted around and my thoughts turned to escape, but I found myself somehow enthralled to his anger. I could do nothing at all in the face of it. He continued, ‘A hundred years! Or more! Trekking through some bullshit, Narnia, fucking fantasy land! Do you know what that’s like?! Chasing some vague destiny! Running from God even knows what! Just to be told that none of it mattered in the first place!’
He paused briefly to regulate the heaving of his chest. Stepping gradually closer, he carried on, ‘You have no idea what you’ve done. You putrefactive little worm, you! It’s gone. Gone! My equilibrium. My control. I can’t accept it. Of all the obstacles I’ve faced, you’re the one that unhinges me, here in my moment of triumph? I’m stuck now! I can’t go back. I thought I’d have years,’ he spoke now more to himself than to me, ‘decades, all the time in the world. Now – no! No! I can feel it already, slipping away.’
Eyes wide like a barn owl, his glare redoubled and returned to me, he uttered almost in a whisper, ‘I might only have minutes left.’
With this conclusive statement, the tension in the atmosphere finally split wide open, and Seejie seized his moment, pouncing the last distance between us, grabbing my lapel with his free hand and placing his weapon roughly up-side my neck with the other. By a forceful pivot, and the threatening proximity of the blade to my carotid artery, I was manoeuvred back-first onto the dirt where the stone pillar had previously stood. There on the dewy ground, with the whacko straddled on top of me, foam dripping, knife scraping, weight collapsing my chest, I could do nothing but await the end. However, the end is not what came. Seejie leaned in closely and near-whispered in my ear, ‘Now, listen carefully. Do you have pen and paper with you?’
I affirmed that I did.
‘Good, then you’re gonna do this with me. This journey of mine, it needs to be recorded. It must be remembered. Otherwise, there was no point in any of it and I might as well have stayed dead. I had it all, every tiny detail that occurred in all that time suspended in my mind just waiting to be plucked and pressed between the pages. But now, thanks to YOU, they’ve shaken loose. I can feel them distending, distorting and becoming one, like I’ve just woken from a dream. The more I clamour for them, the further away they wash from me. But the world must know! So, while I try to lay out as much of it as I can, you’ll be my scribe. I suggest you grab that pen and write out exactly what I say if you want to outlive the day. I’m gonna let you up now.’
Hacking up lung-butter, I laid there like a slime-slicked newborn deer for a few seconds before straining to extract from my hiking bag the tools of my destruction, and of Seejie’s immortality. He sat down on the hill above and behind me, forcing me to twist myself uncomfortably around to keep him in view. Laying the knife across his lap, he instructed me to begin by writing a note from the author. He believed that our accursed meeting needed to be recorded alongside his own diabolical ravings, having now melded and become one and the same narrative in his schizoid view.
End of Author’s Note
Read the next chapter here: https://anxiousplanet.blog/2019/11/17/c-g-gundersons-travels-in-the-afterlife-chapter-1-prose/
Written – Early 2016 – Sept 2017
Published – September 2017
Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash