Otherspace

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Science Fiction
"Memories form knowledge. Knowledge sparks imagination. Imagination breeds ideas."

Robert Pierce wakes and finds himself lost within an enigmatic white void, his memories gone, and unsure of the existence of his own self. The void seems to manifest reality from thought and memories, piecing a familiar yet alien world together before him. But as time goes on, the surreal and menacing truth of the Otherspace begins to unfold, and Robert finds himself gradually consumed by fear and despair, for he is not alone in this ethereal realm. There is something in the walls.

Submitted: April 26, 2019

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Submitted: April 26, 2019

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(the walls.)

He woke gasping for breath in a blank void of whiteness, its brightness as harsh to the eyes as the brilliant flare of the sun. He winced at the glare and instinctively shielded his eyes with his hand, his chest rising and falling shakily with each panicked breath. His heart raced in his chest, pounding at his ribs like a rabid animal desperate to tear free from its nest of flesh. Drenched in cold sweat, he clambered unsteadily to his feet and managed to stand up, gasping as his vision swam before him momentarily. He stood, swaying gently and squinting as he waited for his eyes to adjust to the blinding brightness. His breath still coming in shaky pants,

(have I been running?)

he bent over slightly, clamped his wet palms to his quaking knees, and surveyed the landscape – or the lack of one, thereof.

Emptiness radiated outwards in all directions. All-encompassing. Infinite. All of it that same blindingly bright shade of white. If he hadn’t been so sure that he was standing on a floor of some sort, he would have believed that he was floating. The thought drifted across his dazed mind: what was he standing on? Looking down, he was faced with the same dizzying abyss of white. But he wasn’t floating. That he was sure of, for he felt solid ground beneath his drably sneakered feet.

He knelt to touch the ‘ground’, and his fingers stopped once they had travelled a certain distance down, level to the soles of his feet, as if they had struck the floor. Yet, despite the fact that there was something there, despite the fact that his fingers visibly bent at the point where they touched whatever surface he was standing upon, he felt nothing. There was no texture, no sense of weight, no sensation of resistance from the force his fingers applied to the surface. It was as if there was nothing there at all, and yet there was.

Surely, he must be standing on something, his perplexed mind reasoned. Surely, there must be a

(floor.)

 A sudden cold met his fingertips. A surface smooth and cool to the touch. He blinked in surprise and looked to his outstretched hand. He was no longer hovering over the abyss. He was kneeling at the heart of a square platform of smoothly cut marble fifteen meters in length on each side that had manifested itself seemingly from nowhere. But some part of him knew that it had been there all along.

Cautiously standing up, he ran a hand through his tousled hair in confusion. Had he somehow conjured the platform through his thoughts? Had he simply not been able to see it, to feel it before?

(where the hell am I?)

He turned his head to face the edge of the platform, where the marble surface ended, and the vast depths of the void began. Carefully, he leaned his head over the threshold and gazed into the dizzying abyss with bloodshot, fearful eyes.

(why am I here?)

A flurry of thoughts shot through his mind as he tried to make sense of it all, and ultimately failed to do so. Memories flashed by, like a train speeding by in the opposite direction, at such a speed that he could barely grasp the form of them, let alone their occupants. People he had known – family members, brief acquaintances, lifelong friends – shot through his consciousness, their faces muddled blurs of color, as if someone had crudely erased their features. Then the color and life began to be leeched out of the mental scenery. A flourishing garden rotted away before him as the two figures sat on a picnic rug waved

(goodbye)

to him; the petals of flowers blown astray by the bitter wind as the plants withered away. An extravagant city teeming with life formed and melted in his mind like molten wax. A quaint suburban house devolved into a deformed cocoon of rotten wood and shattered glass. He tried to recall his home. His parents. His own name. What little hope he had left crumbled into a void of despair that yawned open beneath him, as devoid of emotion and substance as the blank slate of his surroundings. Threatening to swallow him. Maybe he’d let it. He clenched his fists, his nails digging into the soft flesh of his palms. Was it blood that now trickled through his fingers, ever-eluding his hold like water in cupped hands, or his identity?

(no more.)

A nauseating concoction of fear, confusion and disbelief sent him staggering away from the edge and back to the secure center of the platform, where he sat down heavily and tucked his head between his knees, fighting to control his hyperventilation. Hot tears streamed down his face and choking sobs racked his body as anguish engulfed his being. There wasn’t anything else to be leeched from him. He had lost his self. He had lost his being. He had lost his past. What hope was left for the future? His thoughts drifted to the imposing edge of the platform, and the bottomless chasm beyond it. Where would it take him? he wondered. Far from this torment, or into the next circle of this infernal purgatory?

At this point, what did it matter? He couldn’t even remember his own name—

“Robert.”

The voice was calm and flat, with a faint echoing and distorted quality to it. The name had been spoken softly, barely louder than a whisper, but the sheer shock of hearing another voice was enough to jar him from his turbulent thoughts and elicit a slight spasm of surprise from his body. He lifted his head from the cradle of his knees.

He was in a room now.

The marble of the platform had coalesced into a hollow cube that entombed him within. The walls were utterly featureless; blank, dull, white slabs of smooth stone that surrounded him and formed his cocoon. Though ominous and no less enigmatic as the platform he had stood upon, they did provide a welcome respite from the madness-inducing sight of the boundless void outside. Yet, within this barren chamber, he was still entirely alone. There was no recorder beside him, no loudspeaker from which the voice could have come from, and to his great sorrow, no person.

(then where—)

“Robert Pierce.” The voice came again, this time clearer, though still possessing a slight staticky buzz to it, as if it was coming through an old radio with a bad signal. Oddly, it had lost its echo, as if the speaker was in the same room as he, but the chamber remained as deserted as it had been. “That is your name. Well, it was your name. Quite a while ago.”

He got to his feet once more and slowly made his way to the wall on his left, gently laying a hand on it and caressing the cold smoothness of the stone as if to assure himself that what he saw was real.

“Who are you?” he asked the emptiness as he ran his finger along the wall, leaving a pristine trail of white through the thick gray dust. He briefly stuttered at the sound of his own voice. It was slightly deeper than he had remembered it to be. His words echoed off the stone in fading whispers, as if he were answering himself.

“An excellent question.” He spun around at the sound of the voice, desperately hoping that there would be someone standing behind him. A pampered young man in a crisp black suit, perhaps. Maybe donning a fedora. Glancing casually at a gold pocket watch adorned with intricate geometric engravings. Or at least, that was what he imagined the owner of the voice to look like. But the barren room stared back at him. He had, however, pinpointed the source of the voice to be at the heart of the room, where he had knelt moments before. “You know the answer to that, of course. You just don’t remember it. Right now, though, the answer is inconsequential. All you need to know is that I am your mentor. Your muse. Your friend. And I have been for a very, very, long time. You may call me ‘Nous’.”

Nous?” he gave a small laugh to mask his mounting frustration with the entity as he pushed off from the wall and turned to face the center of the room, from where the voice emanated, “as names go, that’s quite an odd one.”

“Names, ideas, people…many things can be considered odd, but that doesn’t make them any less significant.”

“Touché,” he muttered under his breath. He then gestured towards the center of the room, “So are you actually here? Or am I hearing a projection of some kind? Or am I just hallucinating and hearing the voice of a posh man in my head? Help me out here; I’m kind of leaning towards the latter, considering my current situation.”

“Define ‘here’.”

Can you just—” He gave a groan of exasperation, whirled around, and slammed his blood-caked fist into the wall with a dull crunch, the pain fueling his frustration. “I’ve known you for barely five minutes and you’ve already become the most irritating person I’ve ever had the displeasure of speaking to. Here! Now! This place! This room! Are you here? Physically here? As I am? Am I just not able to see you, as I wasn’t able to see the floor and walls at first? Answer me!” A pause as he steadied himself. “Please.”

Nous’ collected tone of voice never shifted despite his outburst, “No, I am not here psychically. And neither are you. This entire room, this entire void, it’s all a fabrication. Artificial.”

(artificial)

The word lodged itself among the numerous thoughts spiraling through his head in that instant. A fabrication? How could all this be fake? The walls and floor of his room seemed real enough. The throbbing pain in his swelling hand seemed real enough. The blood flowing from his ruptured skin and dripping rhythmically onto the floor, where it blossomed into scarlet roses upon the pearly white stone, that seemed real enough.

“What…what do you mean? As in all this is a simulation? Created by a computer?” he barely heard the words leave his mouth.

“The closest thing I’d be able to compare this to is a dream. Albeit a very vivid one. Simulations are created by computers, crafted by the human hand. Dreams are forged from imagination and memory by the human mind. This is far beyond the creative capabilities of both.”

“But you created this, didn’t you? You could get me out—”

“I did not create this place, Robert. I am just as much a prisoner here as you are.”

“But you have some degree of power over this place. You created a floor when there was none, just as you created the walls of this room.”

“Listen to me,” Nous’ voice grew suddenly stern, “You woke in this room. Sat upon the floor, looked upon the walls. You just didn’t know it at the time. This room has always been here, as it is now, as it shall. Of marble floor and of marble walls. I merely helped you to see and feel them. I played no part in their creation.”

“Then who did?”

“Push this topic no further.”

“Not until I figure out why I’m here and why my memories have been wiped clean. Who. Did. This?”

“I can’t tell you. I’m sorry.”

Why the hell not?” He paused, collecting his thoughts, before jabbing a finger accusingly at the blank space before him. “You’re trying to keep me here,” he said in a low whisper that dripped with newfound contempt.

“I’m trying to keep you alive,” Nous replied in a defeated murmur.

“And for what? There’s nothing for me here! Nothing but…nothing but half-formed shadows of things that never were. Don’t you get it? I need to know how I ended up here, I need to know who made this place, and I need to find a way out. It’ll kill me if I don’t.”

“It’ll kill you if you do.”

“Like I give a damn if it does. I can’t stay here. I won’t stay here. Tell me who created this infernal place, or I swear I—”

Rap. Tap. Tap.

Three sharp, slow raps upon wood sounded throughout the chamber, eerily echoing off the walls and seeming to hang in the air long after. Robert turned around apprehensively to face the far wall of the room, where a single door of oak had manifested itself, cleanly embedded in the marble. A tall frosted glass pane set in the door warped and twisted the shadow of a gaunt, lanky figure standing perfectly still on the other side, peering through the glass at them.

She did,” Nous whispered over his right shoulder. The slight waver in his normally-calm voice unnerved Robert more than whatever was behind the door. He shuddered.

Robert took a step towards the door and immediately felt a slight pressure on his shoulder as if someone had placed their hand there to hold him back.

“I promise you, you really don’t want to do that,” Nous said.

“And how would you know what’s best for me?” Robert retorted, shrugging free from the entity’s spectral grip and making his way towards the door, where the figure waited patiently on the other side, unmoving.

(rap)

He stopped before the imperious portal of oak, the thoughts churning in his head struggling to come to a consensus. Now that the decision was literally staring him in the face, could he really go through with it? Did he really want to see what lay behind the door?

(tap)

His gaze jumped from the rusted brass doorknob to the shadow in the glass. He could now see that the form was humanoid but rippled and shifted around the edges like molten wax, as if it was unsure of what form to take. Three knocks rang out from the door again, but the shadow never moved to strike the wood.

(tap)

He stretched his hand out to reach for the knob, his palm closing around the shockingly cold metal.

“Every time you open that door, you die,” Nous sputtered in a single hasty breath, as if the words had finally broken through whatever mental barrier he had erected to keep them out, like a river ruptures a dam.

There was a lingering pause. Robert felt the pleading, desperate eyes of someone on his back. Someone that did not exist, and yet stood in the same room as he. Someone who had borne witness to the conception of countless familiar ghosts.

Rap. Tap. Tap.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve had this conversation, is it?” he asked, his hand still on the doorknob.

“No, it isn’t,” conceded Nous.

A pause. “She kills me if I open the door?”

“Every time.”

Robert’s sight flicked to the figure on the other side of the glass. Whatever it was cocked its head curiously to the side and smiled, a luminous grin that was stretched far too wide for a human face. He felt an odd wetness seep into his shoes, and he took a hasty step back from the door, releasing his grip upon the aged brass knob. Blood

(my blood)

was pooling from underneath the wood, the crimson lake radiating outwards, led by scarlet streams that reached for him, groped for him. He could swear that he heard the rhythmic thump of a heartbeat echo faintly in his head. The smile widened.

Rap. Tap. Tap.

He turned to where he presumed Nous was and murmured, “There’s no way out of here, is there?”

“No, there isn’t.”

What few drops of hope remaining trickled out of his being. He gave a hefty sigh and nodded, defeated.

Two knocks sounded then, but the third never came, its ghost lingering in the eerie silence of the room. Robert turned back to face the door and was met by the dull blank slate of a wall, as featureless as it had been before save for the tall rectangular imprint left in the dust that caked it. The puddle of blood had vanished as well, though what had soaked into Robert’s sneaker remained, dyeing the fabric a revolting red-brown. He heard a faint, fatigued intake of breath followed by a wheezing exhalation to his right and whirled around in that direction. The walls of the room were pulsing with each gasp, swelling inwards towards him before deflating and retracting away.

“Resignation,” Nous stated dryly from the center of the room, “That’s how it always starts. Despair, Robert. Like a stake through flesh, that’s what She wants to drive into your heart. Into your mind. Into your soul. There’s no use fighting it. There’s nothing She enjoys more than false hope.”

“The walls are breathing,” Robert said, devoid of emotion.

“Yes, they are,” came the calm reply, “And they always have. Come. I believe you are now ready to understand.” Robert stepped away from the grotesque, pulsing marble and made his way to the heart of the room, where he sat down, cross-legged, on the cold stone floor. He sensed that the entity of Nous had done the same, sitting across from him, watching him intently. Intriguingly, for the first time since he found himself trapped in this chamber of madness, Robert found that he was no longer seeing the opposite wall when looking at Nous. Rather, he saw what could only be described as a shadow of light before him; a mirror image of himself that glowed faintly and pulsed with each syllable of speech.

“You can see me,” Nous remarked with a hint of pride in his voice.

“I…I think? I mean, I can’t really—”

“It’s alright,” – Nous waved him down – “It doesn’t really matter how clearly I appear. Now, you asked me earlier who I was, and I replied that you knew the answer. Can you answer it now?”

“You…you’re me. But how…how can we be the same person?”

“There is no ‘we’, Robert. There was never a ‘we’. There is only ‘I’. Robert Pierce. We are each half of the singularity. I will go on shortly, but first answer me this, as it is key to your understanding of this place and of yourself. Where do you think dreams come from?”

“Well, like you said earlier. They’re created by the human mind.”

“Indeed,” – Nous gave a solemn nod – “But everything is created from material, Robert, is it not? Crafted from substance. Why should dreams be an exception? Why should thought? We think of ideas as something abstract, something intangible. They simply appear in our mind when prompted by a stimulus, be it a question or a spark of imagination. We never question their origin; we simply take credit for their synthesis. But what if the human mind is simply a conduit? An abstract portal through which we draw ideas from their extradimensional womb? A reservoir of thought, if you may.”

“I’m afraid you lost me.”

“This is the Otherspace, Robert.” – Nous spread his arms and gestured around them – “The enigmatic realm from which thought, and ideas are conceived. The muse of authors, poets, artists and musicians. The progenitor of human creativity.”

“And who is this ‘She’ you keep talking about? The girl in the walls? Did She create this place?”

“Judging from the whispers of the many condemned souls that wander this ethereal plane, She goes by many names. The Void Mother. The Dreamweaver. She did not create this place; rather, She was trapped within it. The Otherspace exists outside of time and space. In fact, it might even predate the conception of both. I believe She used to be an astronaut. In the far future, humanity developed the technology for interdimensional travel and starships were built that could warp through the fabric of reality into parallel universes. She was the pilot of one of these starships, and She must’ve taken a wrong turn into a different plane of existence. Quite unfortunate.”

Shrill giggling interrupted their conversation, emanating from inside the walls themselves. There came the sharp tapping of jagged fingernails upon stone, followed by more gleeful laughter and the heavy thump of a body striking the other side of the wall. A miniscule crack appeared in the stone, and a distorted wail of pain echoed from within the walls that quickly dissolved into giggles once more.

“What happened to Her?” Robert cautiously scooted away from the crack in the marble.

“Driven mad, undoubtedly. The Otherspace is the origin of all conceivable thoughts and ideas, after all. Imagine having every possible thought running through your mind in a single instant. The voices of the countless beings across the cosmos whispering in your head at once. The Otherspace destroyed Her – Her mind and body were both obliterated in a fraction of a second. But the Otherspace is beyond death just as it is beyond life. She was reformed, an abomination of flesh chained to the void, holding the strings of all the puppets of the universe, who dance blissfully to Her tune.”

“She holds the reins to our thoughts.”

“Precisely. And every now and then, She uses them to draw the consciousness of people here like flies to a spider’s web. Who knows why she does it. Some she consumes, leaving their owners in a vegetative state in reality, and some she traps in their own heads. In comas.”

A second thump came from the wall and loose fragments of marble rained from the widening fracture, striking the floor with a musical clatter.

“Is that what happened to me? Am I in a coma?”

“Remember, there is no ‘you’ or ‘me’. We are both half of one unfortunate Robert Pierce, who suffered a fate worse than a coma. He had his consciousness reaped from his body in his sleep and drawn to the Otherspace, where it now serves as Her source of entertainment.”

The conversation lapsed into silence as Robert processed the information, his brow furrowed in concentration. Nous watched him curiously.

“Are the pieces of the puzzle coming together, Robert?”

“We…we are both manifestations of half of his consciousness. Robert’s. When he was brought here, it was split somehow. No…not somehow. By someone. She did this. She tore his psyche in half. But why…why are you different from me? We should be the same, no? Of one source, of one substance?”

A third thump from the wall. The fracture split open like a festering wound in the stone, cracks radiating outwards in a macabre spiderweb. Blood, thick and congealing, oozed lazily from the rupture and flowed down the marble in crimson tears. An eyeball followed suit, landing on the stone with a sickening splat, gazing blankly at them. Nous reached across and grabbed Robert’s shoulder, turning him away from the sight as several chunks of ragged flesh dropped from the smile-shaped gap like refuse from a butcher’s worktable. A low, gurgling chuckle echoed from the depths of the wall.

“Because his psyche was not simply torn in half, Robert. She separated it into its two components. Need a clue?” Nous noted the perplexed and terrified look frozen upon Robert’s features, “My name. Nous. It’s Greek for the mind. I am a manifestation of Robert’s inner voice; his thoughts, memories, beliefs and morals. That is why I remember everything that happened clearly while you stumble in the recesses of your mind trying to reclaim your past from the shadows that shroud it. But if I am his mind, what are you? Why do you retain his name? The psyche is of two parts. Two parts that are intertwined, woven together, harmonized, to form the consciousness. To form the self. You know the two halves of the singularity. The mind and the—”

“Soul,” Robert answered suddenly, surprising himself, “I encompass his personality.”

“Correct. Combined, we form the psyche of Robert Pierce, who is currently trapped in an eternal dream, at Her mercy, the poor man.”

“There’s still one thing I don’t quite understand,” Robert said as the wall was struck for the fourth time, “Why didn’t you tell me all this earlier?”

Nous sighed deeply, “Robert, how long do you think I’ve been here?”

“I don’t know, as long as I have?”

“And how long have you been here?”

“I…” Robert trailed off. How long had he been here? He had woken up hovering in the void not long ago, but something in the back of his mind told him that he had been here for far longer than that.

“As far as this ‘you’ is concerned, you’ve been here for just under two hours, Robert,” Nous explained, “Me, I’ve been here for so long that I started counting time in the number of times I watched you die. Until I gave up when that number hit triple digits.”

A fifth thump from the wall. “Hold on, what do you mean this ‘me’?” Robert asked.

“This room is Her source of entertainment. She did not split Robert’s psyche by accident, no. You are fated to be stuck in a perpetual loop of despair and death, while I am destined to watch, unable to help, only able to spectate as you gradually lose all hope and She claims your life. You think you have it tough? Imagine being forced to watch yourself succumb to hopelessness and be brutally killed at the end, over and over and over again. You may forget everything that happened to your previous ‘you’ upon genesis, but I don’t share that luxury. I remember every version of you that woke up in this room, I remember what they said to me, and I remember how they died, gargling on their own blood as they called for me, reached for me, pleaded for me to help them. And I watched.

“I didn’t reveal the truth to you at first because I found myself hoping to prolong your life in any way possible, Robert. She is drawn by conscious thought such as curiosity regarding her being. I thought that if I kept you in the dark, away from the truth of Her, she would delay her arrival, and you would get the chance to live longer. Just a little longer.” Nous turned away from him to stare at the widening fracture in the wall, from which a torrent of blood and entrails was spewing forth in a macabre waterfall. “It didn’t work, though. She still appeared, at almost the exact same time as she always did, at that door.

“Rap. Tap. Tap,” the spectral being mused to himself, rhythmically drumming his fingers on the marble floor.

Robert laid a hand on his doppelganger’s luminous shoulder, “Is there any way to escape from here? To free us both?”

“I have formulated a plan, and you are helping to make it a reality just by speaking to me, you know,” Nous turned back to face him as a sixth thump rocked the chamber and an animalistic screech tore from the gash in the stone, “The Otherspace is built on the concept of thought. Imagination can be used as a weapon, as She has done to cage us, but it can also be used as a key. Memories form knowledge. Knowledge sparks imagination. Imagination breeds ideas. In this place, ideas are the foundations of reality. How were you able to see the marble floor and the walls? You conceived them from nothing because some part of you still remembers that they exist and made them exist. Repeat a stimulus of thought enough and it becomes instinct. She may think that she’s erased all your memories whenever she revives you for her entertainment, but she can’t wipe away instinct.

“When I realized this, I began to show you what I could see. The reality of this place. The room. Slowly, it became integrated into your memory. You knew there was a floor somewhere in the emptiness of the void, and you knew that where there is a floor, there are walls and a ceiling. Slowly, you’ve been able to piece together the room without my intervention. I alone can see the exit, alluring in the hope it embodies, but I cannot leave you here. Every time, you are killed before you can even see it, let alone memorize its presence. But if in your next life, you are able to see and feel the room upon waking, maybe even see me, then we just might have enough time for you to catch a glimpse of it.”

A seventh knock echoed through the room and a large chunk of marble broke off from the wall, splashing into the lake of blood that had formed under the fracture. The flow of blood from the crack had stopped, leaving red-brown echoes on the stone. Robert looked through the crack and gazed into the void once more, only this time the void was pitch black instead of a brilliant white. And within that liquid night, something writhed.

“You’ve seen this play out countless times,” Robert said to Nous as he clambered to his feet to face the fracture. Strangely, he felt no fear. Only a sensation of calm acceptance. “Upon how many knocks does She break through and kill me?”

“Eight. Every time.”

Robert never took his eyes off the swirling amorphous mass of darkness behind the wall. “Anything else you’d like to add before the end?” He turned to face his glowing mirror image.

“You know, for the first time since we arrived in this place, I don’t,” Nous replied with a grim smile, “And I honestly feel that I’ve spoken for long enough. You know what you have to do, and I trust that you’ll do it. She’ll put you through unbearable pain, push you to the brink of insanity, but you must remember. Remember the walls.”

The eighth knock tore a gaping hole in the wall that opened out to the writhing void. A maelstrom of inky blackness swirled behind the breach, drops of shadow dripping and collecting from it, coalescing into the rough form of a lanky young woman donning the ragged remains of what once was a space suit, the tattered fabric stained with blackened blood and fluttering wildly in the roaring wind. She still had her helmet on, but what lay within the nest of glass and metal could hardly be considered human. The glass front of the helmet had been shattered; the yawning maw lined with teeth of jagged glass concealing the warped mass of flesh within. A tumorous growth of inky-black flesh was coiled within the helmet, pulsing rhythmically. Countless brilliant, miniscule blue eyes were scattered about the distorted face, a night sky of twinkling stars cradled in a nest of glass and aluminum. Tears in the spacesuit revealed similarly pulsating flesh, night given form, inlaid with luminous blue pustules that pulsed gently. Inky-black tendrils sprouted from exposed regions of the body and coiled around her limbs, some dangling limply, others slowly snaking about her form, and a number of them erupting from her shoulders and neck, coiling in the air behind her, almost mesmerizingly, like ethereal serpents baring their fangs to strike. An eerie aura resembling static enveloped her form, distorting parts of her body as they randomly fizzled into an incoherent mass of monochrome geometric shapes and particles before reforming. She ignored Nous and stepped slowly towards Robert, stopping about ten paces from him. Fighting the rising bile in his throat and the burning desire to run, he stood his ground.

“I’ll see you in a bit, Nous,” he said, suppressing the quaver in his voice.

An alien, malicious grin slowly spread across the warped face of the creature, emerging from the blackened flesh and stretching from where the ears would be on a normal person and down to the chin. The teeth were jagged and irregular, more like bone fashioned into shards of glass, yellowed and stained with dried blood. Some were serrated fangs, stabbing into the dark flesh of her gums due to their length, drawing streams of dark blood that pooled at the bottom of the helmet. She smiled at him through mutilated lips of tattered, shredded flesh.

(remember)

He glanced sideways at Nous, who gave him a solemn nod, then turned his icy gaze back to the creature writhing before him, staring into her many beady blue eyes, and he felt – no, knew – that in some sane part of the infernal thing, buried deep within her mutated form, a seed of doubt had sprouted and begun to blossom.

(the)

She seemed to hesitate then, taking a tentative step towards him before withdrawing with a shrill screech that burst from her unhinged jaws. Liquid darkness dripped from her being as she paced in front of him, gnashing her disfigured teeth in agitation. Then, she paused. She cocked her head to one side like a curious dog, the blue eyes blinked, and the smile widened impossibly, tearing the flesh of her cheeks. The room began to disintegrate around him, chunks of marble falling away from the walls and floor, revealing more of the ravenous void outside, the noise mingling with the roar of the vortex to form a deafening cacophony. Nous scrambled to maintain his balance on a free-floating island of stone. As his sanctuary crumbled into the abyss, he turned back and met Robert’s eyes in a single swift, desperate glance.

“I’m sorry,” he mouthed. Robert nodded grimly in understanding and the entity vanished in a brilliant flare of golden light and particles.

(walls)

Robert turned back to face the leering creature before him. What seemed like a burst of static clouded his vision momentarily, his surroundings dissolving into a dissonant flurry of gray and white particles. When it cleared, he found that he could see the reality of the room, far from the pristine marble chamber he had found himself in. He saw what Nous could see and had to endure seeing for countless days, and he felt insurmountable pity for the specter.

The marble walls were overgrown with black vines that dug into the stone, inlaid with luminous blue pustules and flowers of varying size that pulsed with an ethereal glow, illuminating the dilapidated chamber. The stone itself was aged and crumbling. What little of it that wasn’t blanketed by vines was caked with dark green mold, with moist patches of moss scattered about, growing within the numerous fractures in the marble. What shocked him the most was the countless bodies that coated the walls, almost appearing to be absorbed by them. They were all the previous versions of him, in various states of decay, some not even completely dead, entangled in the inky vines like flies in a spiderweb. They were gradually being drawn into the walls, which pulsed rhythmically, breathing in that same raspy wheeze. Most of the bodies were bound to the walls like executed victims left on display, some with their entrails dangling out from a ragged, horizontal slash across their abdomen, while others were missing either their upper or lower half, the remaining half of the body dangling dismally from a harness fashioned from its own skin and muscle. Others – some still feebly twitching and giving faint cries of anguish – were impaled upon serrated black growths shaped like the fangs of a snake that sprouted from the walls and floor.

She stood in the center of it all, propped up by the muscular tendrils sprouting from her back so that she hung over him, a monstrous spider with a human body at its core. As she strode towards him upon the tendrils, appearing as if she was floating with ethereal grace, the eerie smile dissolved into a whorl of teeth that occupied the center of her face, which blossomed open like a macabre flower, revealing an endless, gently pulsating gullet lined with rotating rings of human teeth and coated in slime. The rotten odor of long-dead corpses assaulted Robert’s senses and he stumbled back against the wall, gagging as his eyes teared up from the rancid stench. His back struck an arm sticking out of the wall, the outstretched hand frozen in a grasping position, its owner long entombed within the living stone even as he desperately reached for salvation.

(remember the walls)

His eyes darted rapidly around the room as he desperately tried to take in and memorize every horrible detail. The creeping vines. The aged stone. The countless bodies. He saw a hint of a faint white glow behind Her, shrouded behind a veil of vines.

(the exit)

He strained, hoping to catch a glimpse of it, but the creature occupied the entirety of his vision and his attempts were in vain. With a groan of exasperation, he attempted to side-step the beast and make a break for the portal, only to see something shoot out of the creature’s gullet in his peripheral vision. In the next instant, he was pinned against the wall by something embedded in his left shoulder.

Twisting his neck to see the object, he realized that it was a small set of human jaws that had bitten into the soft flesh of his shoulder, drawing blood. The jaws were attached to a black, muscular tendril that snaked back into the depths of the creature’s gaping throat. Before he could understand the implications, a second set of jaws burst from her gullet and dug into his right shoulder. He slumped to the ground, his thoughts blurred, consumed by the agonizing pain. He barely noticed a third set of jaws clamp onto his left thigh.

Then, the tendrils drew taut, and he realized he was being dragged. Dragged towards that yawning maw of spiraling teeth.

His right arm shot outwards, his hand closing around a bundle of vines in a white-knuckled fist. Gritting his teeth from the waves of fresh pain that rippled down his limb, he twisted his head around, once again trying to glimpse the exit to this hell from under the creature. His efforts were interrupted by the clammy touch of skin against his hand and he whirled around in shock. Several hands had sprouted from the breathing walls, all of the same faded white color as the marble, but with the texture of skin and flesh. They scrabbled at his fist, attempting to pry his fingers off of the vines.

(no)

He gave a cry of intermingled fear and pain as he fought Her grip on his left arm, forcing his anguished limb towards the clump of disembodied limbs and struggling to pull them off his hand. They had loosened one finger.

(not yet)

The curiosity of knowing where the hands had suddenly come from wandered into his disorientated mind as they pried loose a second finger, before he caught a glimpse of the outstretched arm he had struck earlier feebly grasping for him, and the pieces clicked together.

(I need more time)

A tortured cry of pain was ripped from his lips as the small jaws hooked into his flesh continued to be drawn back, stripping tattered ribbons of skin and muscle from his limbs as they went and dousing him in his own blood.

He struggled, caught in an infernal tug-of-war over his own body, fighting in a growing pool of his own blood as the flesh was stripped from his mutilated limbs, the sweet scent of spilled crimson invigorating Her, enticing Her.

The hands pried loose a third finger.

(rap. tap. tap.)

He lost his grip on the vines and slid backwards across the blood-slicked ground towards Her with an anguished cry of despair. The details of the dilapidated room of stone and flesh flashed by in a blur. Fragments of Nous’ words to him flashed through his mind like a bizarre audial slideshow.

(it’s all a fabrication. artificial)

The scent of his own draining life filled his nostrils. Choked him.

(there is no ‘we’, Robert. there was never a ‘we’. there is only ‘I’. Robert Pierce)

He scrabbled frantically, clawing for a handhold, scratching at the marble floor.

(I have formulated a plan)

He dug his fingernails into a miniscule crack in the stone.

(are the pieces of the puzzle coming together, Robert?)

His nails were pulled free from their cradles of flesh.

(there’s nothing she enjoys more than false hope)

He was yanked backwards into her waiting maw, everything up to his waist being enveloped by clammy, wet flesh. His feet and lower legs were shredded by the rotary rings of teeth, leaving the bony nubs at the end of his thighs feebly flailing about. He phased in and out of consciousness from the overwhelming agony of it all. Then he felt the jagged edges of the teeth embedded in his shoulders pull taut and drag him deeper into an all new circle of hell.

(I’m sorry)

Expending the last of his energy, he stretched out both hands and grabbed hold of the edge of two of her teeth, slicing open the soft flesh of his palms on the serrated edges. He had forgotten the instructions Nous had given him. The details of the room that he had so meticulously memorized were washed out, blurred. Pain consumed his world, a tide of blood that purged him of his sanity.

His agonized mind, crushed by torment, fought to piece together a single coherent thought. A final message he would embed in his memory. A memo to his successor. What would it be? What should it be? A warning? A statement? A final, hopeless plea for help? It would be none of these things. It would be a guide for the next Robert Pierce. He did not know how much of the message would remain for the next him to decipher, but it was as Nous said. Memories form knowledge. Knowledge sparks imagination. Imagination breeds ideas. Whatever gets through, he would have planted the seed of a memory. A memory that would blossom into a Northern Star for the next lost wanderer of the mind.

(there’s)

Her jaws spiraled shut like the aperture of a camera, descending upon his thin fingers with a crunch. He quickly shut his eyes as he was splattered with blood, fleshy debris, and shards of bone from what little was left of his fingers.

(something)

His only remaining lifeline cut, he was plunged into rancid darkness, drawn backwards into the pit of hell by the jagged jaws digging into his flesh. His breath caught in his throat as his torso was shredded like meat in a blender by the rings of teeth. Scarlet blood spewed from his mouth and he blacked out for an instant but drew himself back from the bliss of unconsciousness even as the very essence of his life trickled from his lips. Not yet. His heart raced in the chest of his mangled body, drumming against his ribcage to a nightmare beat.

(in)

A multitude of serrated hooks leapt from the rotting darkness, latching onto his mutilated body. One dug into the flesh of his scalp while two tore into his bloodshot eyes. Blinded, he was cast into a realm beyond sight and beyond sense, drowning in a sea of his own blood, enveloped by unending anguish and despair. As he was yanked backwards towards his fate, hurtling through the fetid darkness towards the blissful, merciful release of death, his fading mind pieced together the last two words of the message before it too was ravaged and consumed by agony.

(the walls)

He woke gasping for breath in a blank void of whiteness, its brightness as harsh to the eyes as the brilliant flare of the sun.


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