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 in my company 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 honest foreword when he finds it, but without it the proper sense could never be made of the psychopath’s colourful reverie by those without personal experience of its maladjusted protagonist. And the only such person may no longer be around to consult at time of reading. Leaving the narrative of my own journey here aside for a more convenient time, I shall begin this transcription at the cross-point of two quite separate destinies. One belongs to me, the other to my insidious captor, whose sudden arrival in my life I still cannot hope to convincingly explain.
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 the demands of this unhinged individual, you, my cohort behind the mirror, will be able to identify some detail, some angle, some thing, that has eluded me.
Perhaps, although my life hangs in the balance, and I at this point do not know if I will still be with you come tale’s end, by setting down on paper the entire contents of my brain I will at least pass on the mystery in its wholeness, and one more adept than I may one day decipher its meaning. Assuming, that is, that he does not attempt to spit-roast and ingest it as soon as I am done, over the crackling bonfire of my remains.
But alas, you are my only-too-abstract hope in this dismal scene, for at this moment I see only the pen in my grip, and the hand that holds the glinting shard that trembles at my throat. I hear only the ceaseless recitation of a sad man’s deranged fantasy penetrating the subtle mountain air. And my mind, like my body, is held captive by that one impossible detail that I have ordained shall be your charge in understanding in my stead.
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. To maintain such impeccable patter the whole time. 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.
Oh yes, this man must once have been an enthralling performer, but now some crooked impulse has sent him tumbling down a ravine from which I fear the jagged slopes may allow no ascent; not for him, nor for anybody unlucky enough to have been swept up in the carnage as it went. But the preparation, my god. I was sitting in this valley, in this exact spot, for hours before he revealed himself. How long must he have waited, and in what vain hope?!
But I find myself digressing. As I have already stated, I believe the solution to this riddle to be beyond my comprehension. And 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.
* * *
There I sat, cross-legged atop a flat rock about my own size, pondering the great mysteries, when 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 that seemed at the same time to have no depth at all and to stretch forever away into the nothing, radiating intense otherworldly light into the atmosphere like an ever-expanding aura that shrank down again every time I looked away; the way the light – if one can call it that – twisted in all directions, all dimensions, the golden temple atop the summit with its immovable doors, adorned with countless shifting symbols that phase in and out of shadow when eyed too closely – so that the whole thing acted like a portrait whose gaze follows you around the room. The whole raucous creation that to me seemed so divine, to which I had become so attached at the time, vanished.
And I plummeted, down through the yawning slits in my outer shell that let in the unwelcome light, spiralling through countless repetitions of the primeval paradox of concentric horizons, of sky within sky. My own horizons swiftly contracted, and with an almighty WHOOSH I opened my eyes and 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 blissful non-awareness, our eyes met for the first time. And a wave of tranquil 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 arms against the stone, breaking Seejie’s neck in the process and likely my own back as well as I plummet for real this time, across the chasm of missing knowledge and down onto the rough topography of the unknown below. But either in my residual calm or my lagging terror, I did nothing, just sat there. My hands fixed to my knees, eyes wide like port holes, 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 his angular features, 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 m’self?’
He spoke with an accent that, though English, I did not recognise. The way his consonants seemed to spasmodically elongate and then curb themselves accentuated the deeply bending vowel sounds in between, revealing in my immediate hindsight a revolving ouroboromean spectrum of geographic possibilities.
‘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?’
Defensively I ignored its reproach, and it ceased to bother me almost at once. I felt it lanking 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. Slowly I uncrossed my legs and slid away.
Pivoting backwards onto the bank from which the rock from which the head protruded, itself, protruded, I snatched up my bag and skidded down to the footpath. Turning to face him, expecting either a faceless head of hair 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 the opposite direction, 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 scarily animate, but I could glean nothing from it. I was forced to give up by the intense escherian discomfort that slewed through my mind as soon as my focus was placed upon 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 embodying a sensation of a creeping tide of death about which I have nothing pleasant to say.
There was no boundary between stone and flesh.
At first I thought I perceived folded sheets of skin pinched tightly in the craggy clefts of the broken surface, but Seejie looked to be in no pain whatsoever. And 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 inexplicably rude, all 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 are you doing?’
This last question asked with a more desperate twinge than I might have liked, my dominance over the conversation was swiftly becoming a faraway notion. All at once I seemed to 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.
Before I knew it, great and miniscule tendrils extended forward from the tidally swishing scene, formed of superimposed moments crushed together in a sensational deadlock. Time was stopped, but the motions of inanimation grew and grew, exceeding the physical objects which had previously seemed of such great importance. They crept and tickled and stroked the delicate outer surface of my perception. Four, five, six gleaming dimensions that I have not since been able to recall, flashed momentarily and were lost in infinitude. This was something of a different nature to my own. I needed no convincing at the time. But was there any way to know what I saw? Could the bleakly impoverished imaginings of my smothered meditations ever again compare to this ultimate reality? Or 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. All intelligible thought had vanished from my mind. 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. At an astonishing pace, its substance seemed to evacuate its form, but by this I felt strangely undisturbed.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 – and beneath them… horror. Sudden, unspeakable horror and revulsion filled my world.
It was at this point that the whole thing finally became too much. My eyes open but unseeing, I cowered in the deepest, dankest corner of the most remote caverns in my mind and prayed – yes, prayed – for it to stop. And strangely enough, after only a few more seconds, it did. The bombardment slowed and eventually 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, Seejie (bollock naked) 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, threatening to burst through a soft balloon which could never be mended. I knew if I did not resist that I would fall through the great canyons between those yellow teeth and be swallowed straight down into the belly of madness. My eyes closed themselves. My face grimaced itself in a futile attempt to make it stop. Before I knew it I was right back in that inner pit, cowering. All was bare, dripping, cavernous darkness. An inescapable approach had begun, and I had not a single twitch of control left in me.
After an agonisingly long time, the competing forces collided causing the teeming contents of the balloon to cascade mercifully into the all-consuming vacuum. The crisis was over. The moment had passed. My eyes timidly opened, 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’. Glancing up, a face I almost recognised dawned into view. Eyes closed, inhaling – the smile had barely changed. I was so totally lost for words that in that horrendous moment, in my excavated state of mind, foreign palms tightly gripping my ears, I did something very foolish, something which I now deeply regret.
In raising my right leg to stamp mercilessly on this trickster’s toes until he let me go, I did not fully consider our positions. Inadvertently and most unfortunately, I slammed an errant knee, with brutal force, directly into Seejie’s nads. My head was free. Seejie 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, without his customary floating lilt:
‘What the fuck is wrong with you? Seriously, what twisted, backwards, nightmare software are you running on that thing?’
The dagger indicated my head.
‘All I’ve done since we met is be kind to you. Do you think it’s my fault? Do you think I chose to surprise you, interrupt your precious time alone on my way back through infinite time and space?’
I could feel myself shrinking before the torrent about to course my way.
‘I’ve just completed a journey you couldn’t hope to comprehend! A full lifetime of pain and graft! Another near-century of bare-knuckle struggle through some bullshit, Narnia, fucking fantasy land! And finally, finally, countless tranquil millennia draining through the very guttering of reality itself… And you, you putrefactive little worm; you, of all the obstacles that leapt in my way, are the one that unhinges me, here, at last, in my moment of triumph? I can’t accept it.’
He paused briefly to regulate the heaving of his chest and to take stock of the situation. Stepping gradually closer, he continued, ‘You have no idea what you’ve done; you couldn’t possibly. You can’t know, you mortal slave, the freedoms that are possible out there.’ He motioned sternly up into the cooling dusk with one finger as he spoke.
‘Your impatience, cowardice, bitter, pussing fear has robbed me of my equilibrium! 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 searchlights, 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 open as though by a crack of lightning preceding a storm, and with movements just as quick Seejie seized his moment and pounced the last distance between us, grabbing my lapel with his free hand and placing his weapon roughly up-side my neck with the other. With a forceful pivot, and the threatening proximity of the blade to my carotid artery, I was manoeuvred back-first onto the imprinted dirt where the stone pillar had previously stood.
With this image in mind of the whacko straddled on top of me, foam dripping, knife scraping, weight collapsing my chest, you may think of me, Reader, as did Seejie, as a pusillanimous wretch incapable of asserting his own existence. But I tell you now, had you been in my place, you too would have offered no resistance. With a mind still reeling from all that I had seen, a consciousness shredded by powerful blows, I could do nothing but lie there and await the end.
The end, however, is not what came – quite the opposite in fact. 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. As part of my profession I always carried with me the necessary tools for documenting events.
‘Good, then you’re gonna do this with me. This journey that I’ve been on – the one that took thousands of years, yes – it needs to be recorded. It must be remembered. I had it all – every minute detail, every significance and silliness that occurred in all those long epochs suspended in my mind just waiting, one by one, to be plucked and pressed between the pages – but now, thanks to you, they’ve shaken loose. I can feel them distending, distorting, popping, mixing, and becoming one, like a dream desperately recalled. The more I clamour for them, the further away they wash from me. I can no longer record all of them in time, before they lose their shape. So, while I attempt to lay out as many and of as much importance as I can, you will be my scribe. I suggest you grab that pen and write out exactly what I say if you intend to outlive the night. 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 need 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