~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~
I’m in a dark place now and always searching. What I’m searching for I am not able to know. Sometimes I’m searching for a way out (or in) and other times I’m searching for something else, but I can’t always say what it is. There are other people here, just like me, but they are also searching and seem just as confused as I am. I bump into them sometimes in the dark—that’s how I know they’re there. Sometimes I try to speak to them, if only to apologize for bumping into them, but I can’t seem to form the words, as if I’ve forgotten language.
The darkness here is not like darkness anywhere on earth. Sometimes there is flashing green light from above that is like lightning, but isn’t lightning because there’s no thunder and never any rain. I stumble along; sometimes I can see where I’m going and sometimes I can’t, so I’m always running into things that I can’t see—or can’t see very well. Occasionally—very rarely, though—I see a few seconds of light that is like daylight. I call it daylight, even though I’m not sure it’s light from the sun, and it always lifts my spirits and makes me think I’ve found what I’m looking for, or that finally I’m going to be able to leave this place and go to a better place.
Sometimes I hear sounds but I don’t know where they’re coming from. I hear voices, nearby and far away, but I can never make out the words. I hear music, but when I try to find out where it’s coming from it turns into something else, like a wolf howling or an elephant trumpeting. A lot of confused sounds. When I hear gunfire, it scares me and I think I need to take cover, but then the gunfire stops and I hear screaming and crying, worse than the gunfire.
I know why I’m here. I did a bad thing. I went up to the attic and committed suicide by hanging. As soon as I stepped off the table with the rope around my neck, I knew I had done a foolish thing, but it was too late to take it back. In those few seconds while I dangled at the end of the rope, I struggled mightily to undo what I had done, but the more I struggled and tried to make the rope release me, the tighter it became around my neck. They say when you are hanged you die of a broken neck. My neck wasn’t broken, though. I died of strangulation, pure and simple, which means I was deprived of air enough to go on living. In two minutes I was unconscious and in four minutes my heart stopped beating and I was dead.
What I was seeking was Oblivion. The Great Void. The Divine Nothing. What I got instead was an absolute awareness of what I had done and that I was in a place of torment and confusion. I’m not sure how long I’ve been here because here there is no time; words like “hour,” “minute” and “day” have no meaning here.
One day (or night) when I was crossing a field to God-knows-where, I crashed into a tree trunk. Crashing into a tree trunk was nothing unusual for me, but this tree was different because it was lit by a faint light from above—just enough light for me to see a sign hanging from the tree at eye level. Printed on the sign were these words: Keep going to Wind Mountain and you will find a way out.
I can’t know who else saw the sign, but I was sure it was intended only for me. It might have been an ugly trick, but I didn’t think it was. I didn’t know where Wind Mountain was and had never heard of it, but I would keep going until I found it. Maybe there would be other signs along the way to guide me. Maybe I would meet another person and could ask for directions. Anything seemed possible. For the first time since coming to this place, I had hope.
I traveled for what seemed like years looking for Wind Mountain but might have been only hours or days. Whenever I tried to ask the people I crashed into if they could direct me to Wind Mountain, they only looked at me in terror and tried to get away from me. They were no help at all. I was beginning to think that Wind Mountain didn’t exist and that the sign I saw on the tree was a hoax or just another cruel trick.
At the end of a long, weary road, I came to a man in a dark cloak with a hood covering his head. I couldn’t see his face or any part to of him but, since he didn’t recoil from me, I got the distinct impression he was waiting for me.
“I’m looking for Wind Mountain,” I managed to say, and I knew they were the first words I had spoken in this place that made any sense.
The road I had been walking on for such a long way ended here. The man in the cloak pointed upward and I knew there was a mountain right here in front of me and I was meant to climb it, even though I had never climbed a mountain before and wasn’t sure I had the strength.
I turned my back on the man in the cloak and looked up at the mountain. “That’s a big mountain!” I said. “What happens when I get to the top?”
But when I turned around again the man was no longer there. He had disappeared as completely as if he never existed or as if I had just imagined him.
I began climbing. It wasn’t easy because I was weak and tired. I put one foot above the other, and then one hand, and pulled myself up. I tried to concentrate on the step I was taking, or about to take, rather than the distance I had yet to travel.
After much straining and striving upward, I saw the faint light above my head, faraway but somehow attainable. Then I felt a cool breath of air on my face that didn’t have the smell of damp earth or decay. It was the first fresh air I had breathed for as long as I could remember. I began climbing faster, believing I was getting closer, at last, to the thing I had desired.
It took me an eternity to climb Wind Mountain. When I finally got to the top, there was an opening through which I could see blue sky and white clouds. When I emerged from the opening—like being born—the sunlight dazzled me. It might have been the first sunlight I had ever seen. I covered both eyes with my hands. That’s when I knew I had changed and was no longer the same. My hands had become paw-like appendages covered with fur and bearing long claws.
Trying to figure out exactly where I was and what I was, I half-stumbled, half-fell away from the opening through which I had emerged. That’s when I saw a group of five or six figures huddled in a circle about fifty yards away. I drew in my breath and crouched down, hoping they wouldn’t see me. I had the idea I could get away before they knew I was there.
I didn’t know what they were doing at first, but I saw after two or three minutes of close observation that they were ripping shreds of meat off a carcass on the ground and eating them. They had the shape of men but weren’t men. They walked on their hind legs like men but sometimes they dropped down on their hands and feet like dogs. I didn’t know what kind of beings they were, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that they were the same kind I was. My heart was beating so loud I was sure they would be able to hear it and know I was there. They would surely kill me if they saw me.
I was on the verge of veering around behind them and making my escape when one of the figures stopped eating and raised his nose high in the air. The others noticed what the first one was doing and also stopped eating and sniffed the air. They smelled something they weren’t used to smelling, a danger or a threat. They all turned then and looked at me.
I was going to run, but I knew it was futile. They would outrun me. They would knock me down and kill me, but before I died I would experience the pain of being ripped apart. This violent ending I was about to experience would be my punishment for hanging myself.
I watched them as they came toward me. Some of them were walking like men, while others were on all fours like dogs. I stood up and closed my eyes. I would take it standing up. There was no reason I had to see it, though.
Instead of devouring me or knocking me down where I stood, though, they surrounded me, making a wall around me with their bodies. I opened my eyes but wasn’t able to see their faces because the sun was in my eyes. One of the figures surprised me by holding out a piece of meat to me in his paw. I took hold of it in my paw—it was the size and shape of a heart—and began eating. It was the nourishment I had gone without for so long. After taking a few bites, I licked my lips and asked where I could get a drink of water. My voice sounded strange to my own ears, though. It was a voice I had never heard before.
Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp