Jack looked at his reflection in a silver platter and wondered whether the resident rat had taken its usual morning constitutional in the corner behind the unused broom. New droppings rolled at the bottom of the sink, suggested that the flea-ridden rodent had taken off for better feeding grounds.
Jack pondered his left eye. The whites of the eyeball, dingy against the backdrop of red streaks, seemed thick and filmy. A lackluster pupil, gray and blurry, wandered toward the back of his sight like a tunnel with no exit. His right eye twitched.
Life—it was there once, in the clutch of Jack’s consciousness. An idea of tradition tugged at Jack’s forgotten knowledge, though he could not locate the remembrance. Perhaps there was nothing to remember. His reflection could be just a whim of someone else’s nightmare. Existence could be just a distant echo of subconscious hope.
No. He was alive, had to be. Dreams could not reach cognizance, and Jack was aware. Awareness afflicted only the living.
Jack flinched in understanding that he had once known more than he knew now, and felt desolate in knowing that he might never relearn the truths he had lost, though he felt haunted by the chill ghosts of future memory.
Jack conceded to the loneliness of being imprisoned in the final Halloween of the last millennial distinction of the Christian god. He wallowed with uncertain empathy for a way of life that had replaced traditions of the earth with atoms. He had a sudden sensation of riding a wild a horse through plowed fields, destroying anything left unharvested on the Samhain, and then felt consumed by indifferent fire.
Jack shuddered at the psychological uproar. Thoughts came to him as they came, unannounced and on their terms. His only understanding was that tomorrow no one would remember, that next year all prayers might be directed toward an array of electrical impulses and flickers of simulated light. Yesterday mattered little in the effect and cause of the universe because it offered nothing different than the empty promise of today. Time was nothing more than a victim of forgotten eternity, just as the feasts of past magic were betrayed by the depths of Heaven.
The Wheel of Life turns only in a circle. The Ouroboros devours itself.
Only the face in the reflection had changed with irretrievable certainty, and it stared distantly, without emotion, through the dimness of Jack’s consciousness. Only the screams of fatigue and age etched upon the shallowing features seemed familiar.
Limbo—how had such a place been conceived? Jack felt lost between life and death, wondered how he had reached this fork in the road that offered no direction. The crossroads of his thinking led to nothing behind or ahead of him. Looking sideways, he saw only the mask of himself.
Once upon a time he had clung to the vines of immediate life, nourished himself with light, the earth—bathed himself in the fullness of the moon and drank from the sparkle of the stars. Jack felt the certainty of it, wanted again to feel the sureness of life so he could release his hold to reach the darkness. But his grip was already feeble, and he gained only insufficient strength from the stench of decay that threatened to belch from within. Without a solid tug upon life he could not release himself from an unknown existence.
Still, escape seemed the only solace, and salvation seemed promised only by destruction. Knowing or unknowing, Jack wanted no longer to be neither here nor there. He wanted to die.
Quick-bladed death would be better than unanswered life, but Jack could not initiate a physical reflex faster than his thought.
And then she returned. Her outline suggested seduction. Her silhouette whispered temptations of unbridled lust and naked craving. She spoke to him. This succubus of his wavering consciousness seemed to know Jack better than he knew himself. And then suddenly he knew her beyond all things.
She was Cailleach, the old woman who approached now with beautiful certainty, guiding Jack out of his reflection to a solid promise of death.
It was true. He had known once. Existence was now realized only in his sudden discovery of her, and impending Death was the fruit of understanding.
Solace could come only through a night of hallowed fire. And only after flaming illumination could he escape into the permanence of eternal nothingness.
Jack quivered with lust as the old woman’s knife sliced through his flesh. He felt comfort in the ooze that flowed from his wounds, languished in knowing that only in pieces could he comprehend the reaches of a whole existence.
Through the night, his jagged smile and crooked eyes would light the path of mischievous beggars. Some time after the witching hour he would be snatched from his perch and smashed upon the street by hooligans. Before sunrise, a rat would delve from the gutter to retrieve tidbits of Jack’s shattered body.
All purposes of Jack’s existence would be realized.