The Diary of Megan Penn, continued. These are the first few pages, notably written in a different and more complex cypher. Though written in present tense, she was clearly not transcribing these events as they transpired, but rather reconstructing them from memory. Due to the nature of the experiences in question, much of her language should probably be read as metaphorical.
They got me.
I am no longer in my body. I am above and below myself, falling up and down into twin darknesses. I look up and down at myself, through eyes that aren’t there, and I hear a low, resonant humming buzz with ears that don’t exist, but it is building right at the edges of my perception. I am falling faster now, and the faster I fall, the louder the hum becomes. Part of what was once me can see the horizon shift from a straight line to a curve, and the curvature becomes ever greater until I can see the whole Earth falling away from me.
I can see the Sun. We never see the Sun, you know, not really. Okay, maybe sometimes we’ll glance directly at it, and spend the next few seconds blinking away the pain. Or, perhaps we’ll see it through special goggles during an eclipse if we take the time and trouble. But at neither of those times do we really see the sun as it is. Of course, most of us don’t really see the Earth, either, though we’ve all seen the images taken from space. Now, don’t get me wrong: the Earth is astoundingly beautiful when viewed from far enough away, a perfect green and brown and blue marble overlaid with the intricate white fractals made by the clouds shifting over its surface. That’s something you don’t see in the pictures: the motion. But what really grabs my attention in this moment is the Sun. Maybe it’s the distance, maybe it was because I don’t really have eyes anymore, but I can look straight at it, and as I fly further away I can see the whole thing, and the longer I look, the more I began to see. How often do you consider the fact that the sun is a gigantic nuclear explosion that is always exploding and which we are always falling toward but never quite falling into? How often do you consider that it radiates in far more wavelengths than we can perceive with our eyes? I don’t have any eyes, so I see so much more. That great, swirling, incandescent sphere is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen up until this moment. I understand why ancient people worshiped the sun.
Around me is the cold darkness of the void, ahead and above me is the bright light of the Sun, and behind and below me is the Earth. No longer tethered to the planet that was once my home, I am falling towards the boiling cauldron of light at the end of my tunnel of vision.
As I fly and fall up and down and out, I am also diving deep inside myself. Did you know that there are more cells in a single human body than there are stars in our galaxy? I see them all, cells and stars, I am them all, and not just my cells or our star. I see and understand every cell and virus and bit of bacteria in every being on every planet. There are magnificent multitudes of molecular metropoli in constant, unending motion, an unimaginably intricate dance taking place all around and within us at every moment. And cells aren’t the only way to do the Life Dance. It is danced in countless ways on countless worlds in countless galaxies, and even in the deep darkness between the stars. I know it all as an angel from above. And then I look down. Down past the millions of billions of atoms within every material thing, past them to the particles within, then deeper, deeper and deeper, down past the uncountable trillions of unthinkably tiny things that move in the deep dark dimensions curled up within themselves. I look down into the Dark, into the Light, into the Shining Void that is within and beyond all things.
I am falling into the Sun.
I hear Dawn screaming. I don’t have ears, and I am an infinity of infinities away, but I hear her, and it shatters that Peace and it shatters me. So I try to go back, but the Sun is too strong. I fight as hard as I can, but it wins. Except I can still hear her screaming. So I scream too, and I fight even harder. I rage and cry and beat and tear and rip and kick and bite and slam and then finally just push against the Light with all of the strength I don’t have.
Imagine trying to squeeze yourself through a tunnel smaller than a strand of your hair through a wall a thousand miles thick. Imagine trying to dig your way out from the inside of a glacier, when all your muscles are frozen solid. Imagine trying to pick the most intricate lock you can imagine a billion trillion times without lock-picks, and time it becomes more fiendishly complex than the last. Imagine trying to cut down a giant redwood by head-butting it. Imagine wearing down a mountain by scraping at it with your fingernails.
Fighting my way back to the World is infinitely more impossible than all of those things put together. But I have all of eternity and my daughter’s screams don’t stop, so I don’t either.
After an infinity of time, after more pain than I’ve ever experienced, after more pure, raw work and willpower than I’ve ever put into anything, I tear myself away from the pull of the Sun. Before me, between me and the world, a door opens in the Void. It is the tiniest of cracks, the smallest possible hairline fracture in the immaculate non-surface of non-being. It took everything I had to face it, and it took everything I was to open it, and it took everything I might have become to squeeze through. But I did. And I followed the screams as I rose back up through the atoms and molecules and cells and fell back down through the galaxies and out of the Sun and through the clouds and down into myself once more.
I am in Darkness. Perfect, absolute blackness.
Silence. No screams. Perfect, absolute quiet.
A smell I cannot identify.
But I smell it with a nose, and I see the darkness with my eyes.
But then I put my hands to my head.
I don’t have eyes.
I don’t have ears.
I don’t have a nose.
I have empty holes in my head.
My skin is rotten, and it comes away from my skull when I brush my fingers across my face.
I have no teeth. I have no hair.
Just a little skin and bones, just a few guts and teeth.
Now I know the smell: it is my own rot, and the earth I am buried in.
I can see it and hear it and smell it and taste it and feel it and sense it in ways I’ve never known before. I don’t, have any in my dry, broken veins, and as soon as I become aware of this, the lack becomes the worst thirst I have ever known, multiplied by the worst hunger, to the power of all the pain in the world. Blood is everywhere around me, it is even inside me, in the worms and maggots and beetles still crawling and slithering around in my guts. I can feel it further out, too, but fainter. I reach into my stomach and pull out a fistful of things I wouldn’t have touched with a ten-foot pole when I was alive and munch them down without a second thought. Okay, maybe I have a second thought, maybe even a third, but even the blood of these tiny creatures is the sweetest ambrosia. I feel it inside me, becoming part of me. I feel stronger. The thirst is still there, but it’s only a deep burning pain now, not an all-consuming wildfire need.
I think I have eyes now, but I still cannot see. So, I feel. My fingers brush tattered fabric, soft earth and broken, rotting wood. I am under the ground, six feet under to be exact. I must have been gone a long time, because my coffin has obviously rotted away. Enough of it is still intact enough that it hasn’t collapsed completely, but it’s relatively easy to begin breaking through what’s left of it, and when the soil pours in, to start digging my way up. It takes a while, I suppose, probably hours. But what are hours to one who has escaped from eternity’s clutches? What is toil to one who has spent uncountable aeons outside Time, struggling to open Death’s Doorway? Anyway, after a while passes in the dirt and darkness, I break through. First, a finger, then a hand. I can feel the rain on my dead flesh. You must be struck by the trite trope: a rotten hand pushing its way out of a grave on a stormy night. Indeed, I seem to have found myself in a bad horror movie. Just wait, I’m sure it gets worse.
As I pull myself from what is now a gaping hole in the ground, I feel the water wash over me, sliding over my exposed skull and drip through my ribcage, sloughing off the caked filth of the grave as it goes. The bowl of my hipbone is almost empty, but it fills and overflows, the water leaking over the sides and through the place where my loins once were, trickling down my legs. To be honest, I’m not sure how I’m even moving at this point. The few muscles I have are withered, and most of the tendons that remain have snapped off and now wave about in the wind like the strings of some forgotten puppet.
I stand there for a moment, sniffing the air, and catch the scent I’m looking for, even through the rain. I take a moment to shift some of the earth I displaced back into the hole, and then start putting one rotted, skeletal foot in front of the other. I think I know where I am, if I was buried where I wanted to be.
The smell of blood pulls at me, tugs me along. The thirst, momentarily driven back by my stomach bugs, has regrouped and is mounting a counterattack. I begin walking faster, until I see them: a doe and her fawn, who do not seem to be bothered by the rain. They are sharing some food I cannot see, and even their forms are unclear to me. I’m still not sure whether I have eyes. But the blood inside their bodies is all I need to see, and it shines and stinks and sings at me so bright and loud and pungent it drowns out everything else. I wait for what would be a beat of my rotten heart. The doe’s ear swivels and she cocks her head.
I lunge. The doe starts, turns, and bolts around the gravestones and into the nearby trees. The fawn tries to follow, but it is slow, slower even than me, and I am smart, and I am thirsty. I follow it as it darts this way and that, zig-zagging around sagging stones, around statues and plinths and bushes and trees, until I corner it on the steps of a tomb. It stares at me with big, wet eyes and I almost break. Just for a moment, I want to leave this other mother’s daughter with its life and fall back into the Sun.
But the thirst roars at me and my daughter’s screams echo in my mind and I pounce on the little thing and I can feel myself shifting, changing. I can feel my last few teeth falling out. I can feel the fangs that replace them, as though my mouth were a shark’s maw. I close that gaping gullet around its neck and can feel it struggle but oh so weakly as I bite down and tear out its throat and drink the crimson nectar that flows forth. When it stops flowing I suck it from the wound and when there’s no more I lick it from the stone steps.
It tastes like chocolate and honey and ice cream, like the best whisky in the world, like the first drag on a cigarette when you’ve been craving one all day, like fresh fruit and buttery lobster and seasoned steak and birthday cake, like those chocolate chip cookies my mother would make. It tastes like music. It tastes like a sunset. It tastes like sex. It tastes like life.
Because it is.
I leave the fawn’s drained body lying there, the rain beating down on its dead eyes.