Special thanks to Christopher Vollick who acted as an additional editor on this story
I see the wind blow in a wild rage, giving life to the sand as it whirls around his seemingly small figure. Great bands of white cloth wrap around his head, acting as a shield against the gale. An eye-slit in the cloth appears as a great canyon might when seen from above: a dark gaping hole between the cliffs of white. Sand drives into the cavern with the mighty gusts, descending into the depths with a speed greater than gravity. Reaching the floor of the cavern, it stings his eyes like a swarm of bees that has been enraged by some unknown attacker. His clothes are worn and tattered by the wind, the sand stinging his legs until his flesh is raw, now being exposed to the elements.
I see him fall to his knees, the pain too much to bear any longer. He kneels there, face to the ground for what seems like days; the sand turning to mighty shields of rock around him, leaving him petrified. Finally he moves again, cracking the stone at shoulder and elbow until it shatters like broken glass, giving his arm locomotive liberty. Fighting against the wind, he peels a small leather bag from his back like shedding an exoskeleton. I see him pull a rusty knife from within before discarding the pack to one side.
The strange scene unravelling before me draws me in with wonder and expectation, but also causes my stomach to knot up as though filled with a host of butterflies. A flood of questions fill my mind like a mighty torrent crashing down from above. Who is this man? Where is he going? I watch in horror as he lifts the knife above his head. What am I watching? Some suicidal maniac giving up, the pain too great to bear? I want to call out to him, “Don’t do it! Life is worth living!” But I cannot. I am frozen, stuck in this place, unable to reach him. I want to turn away, but am forced to witness this grotesque crime against life herself. The knife draws closer, slicing through the air with precision and determination, battling the wind for the right to this man’s life. “Stop, I beg you! Please!” I scream, but he is not listening, or cannot hear. The knife draws closer still. Like a scene in slow motion, I watch powerlessly.
“Master death, or be its slave.” I hear a voice, carried to me with the wind. Is this man talking? Or perhaps an alien conversation is brought to me, carried on the wings of the winds, its source a mystery. The blade is even closer now, within inches of the helpless man before me. I try to run, hoping to save him from himself. My feet do not move: chained to a mighty stone. An invisible wall blocks my way and any chance to rescue him.
Tears begin to well up as rusty metal pierces flesh. The man does not cry out nor does he stumble in this act of brutality. I struggle against my chains, the falling of my tears mimicked by the blood dripping down his bleached tunic. “Master death or be its slave: chained against your will.”
“Who are you!” I scream. “Leave this man alone!” The wind begins to laugh as if motivated by directive. A pool of blood forms at the man’s feet as the knife plunges deeper into his heart. The unknown force holds me back, commanding incapacitation. “Surrender. Kill!” The voice continues, transforming from a whisper to a shriek. The wind howls all the louder as the man’s life begins to slip away. The clothing is ripped from his body, giant claws tearing at his flesh. The pool of blood expands, forming a great crimson lake. His naked carcass begins to sink beneath the scarlet blanket. Before finally disappearing beneath the waves, I hear the man speak, his words familiar yet foreign. “Master death or be its slave: chained against your will. Lose yourself beneath the waves. Find your liberty.”
The wind laughs, giving a final cry of triumph before disappearing, taking the man’s life with it. Nothing left of the wind but memories, and the man reduced to bubbles in a pool of vicious death. As if released from bondage, I fall to the ground, now alone. The only evidence of the man lies before me: the lake of blood. Trees of death line the shore, making it a foreboding sight indeed. What am I left with now, besides the recurring nightmare that would soon be unavoidable? I can never forget this sight that I have seen.
I make my way toward the great expanse of blood, and my stomach churns like new butter. It rises to my throat desiring to be emptied. The stench of blood fills my nostrils and I swallow heavily, forcing my stomach back like water down a drain. As I reach the shore I peer into this murky lake of death. I have no words left. No thoughts left. Nothing. What am I to do now? I feel an urge to enter the pool and look for the man, but my stomach revolts at the suggestion my mind offers.
I sit on the bank of the lake, pondering my surroundings, a sea stretching forth to either side. Behind me is revealed a great expanse of sand. The sun bounces off the pearly carpet causing it to sparkle like diamond dust. Travel in that direction is far from favourable. The hot sand on my feet scorches to the bone. The other direction, however, proves no more favourable. A blanket of blood stretches out like the remains of a herd of boar slaughtered in brutality, its foul stench almost enough to drive me away. Those strange words return to me as I contemplate my situation. Master death or be its slave: chained against your will. Lose yourself beneath the waves. Find your liberty. The last line stands out to me like the moon in the night sky. Lose yourself beneath the waves. Find your liberty.
What can it mean, these strange utterings of a suicidal maniac? “He can’t be serious!” I say aloud, hearing my own voice for the first time.
“Lose yourself beneath the waves.” The blood calls out to me sending a chill down my spine.
It might as well be saying “Take this rusty knife and plunge it into your heart!” How can a man survive such a venture?
As if in reply to my unspoken words the lake speaks again, “Master death or be its slave: chained against your will.” The gnarly claws of Curiosity come reaching for me from beneath the waves. He rises like a mighty force, grabbing and pulling me into the air. Lacking sanity and elegance, I jump, being pulled under the surface of the lake. I have no desire for death, but the desires of Curiosity are clear. He continues to pull me under, deeper, deeper, clawing at my mind forcing me to continue into the inky depths.
I find no man beneath the waves. No rusty knife. No purpose. Wrapped in this scarlet blanket, I can see nothing. Sanity tugs at my legs, telling me to rise as my lungs burn for air, but Curiosity battles: slashing at the flesh of Sanity with his sharp claws cutting her wrists continually. Like two beasts at war they continue to grab, tug, and slash. I can imagine the blood level rising in the lake as crimson lines appear on Sanity. She cries for help, but no one comes to her aid. Curiosity continues his ferocity until Sanity releases her grasp, leaving me to the choice that I made. As Sanity lets go, she takes my air with her, leaving me to drown in this pool of blood. Water gives buoyancy to the dead, but the blood lacks such decency. It pulls me under as my life begins to fade. Releasing myself to death, I open my mouth, allowing the blood to flow in, filling my lungs to capacity. Death should hold finality, its bells calling to me, singing haunting songs of despair. The deafening sound continues, endlessly torturing me. “When will death come?” Curiosity speaks, not more than a whisper, yet somehow not lost in the noise around me.
The wind rushes once again. I feel it warm against my face. Falling, falling, falling, never to hit bottom in this endless pool of blood and death. Skydiving through the murky air, my parachute, Sanity, is replaced by the anchor of Curiosity. Clouds appear right and left, blood orange against the backdrop of death. The ground beneath me is drawing closer still, but I am not afraid. Not afraid of death. I have died before, but death did not take me. Tied to that bolder I felt the weight of death holding me back, chained in slavery. It all comes back to me now like a memory from another life. I see myself. No, I feel myself: despair, pain, sorrow. My heart is aching in my chest, no more tears left to cry. “A failure!” He cries, this man who is myself. He kneels upon the sand, a sharp metal blade held firmly in his grasp. “I have failed!” He cries again. “Death take me, I deserve not to live.”
As if answering the call, Death appears in all his horror, grabbing the knife in my hand. He rears his ugly head from within a cloud of darkness. Hands come reaching for me, and I scream. Grabbing the knife from my hand, he answers the call. “Death will be your master, and you my slave.” He sneers, letting out a filthy laugh before plunging the blade into my heart. Life appears like a cliff before me, and death pushes me off the edge. I hang in the air, immovable and afraid.
Death is now a boulder, anchored to my leg, keeping me suspended, enslaved. In my struggle I see a man, rusty knife in hand, but cannot save him. Death has me chained. “Master death or be its slave: chained against your will.” He plunges the knife into his heart and falls from my view. Suddenly, I am falling again, but no longer afraid. Death is not my anchor, but Curiosity. The orange clouds whirl by faster and faster, but I am not afraid. Death cannot take me. I hold the power, no longer enslaved to him. I wield him like an artist would and paint a masterpiece. No more despair, pain, sorrow. “I am not a failure.” My words whirl with the clouds, strengthening my soul.