Part 4: Journal of The Nameless One: Part 2Journal of The Nameless One: Part 2
The Mortuary (Music)
As of this writing I still cannot believe I gave it a try.
"So, uh..." the zombie stood swaying unsteadily, "doing any later?" As expected, it gave no response.
Morte nudged my shoulder, "Psssssst. You see the way she was looking at me? Huh? You see that? The way she was following the curve of my occipital bone?"
"You mean that blank-eyed beyond-the-grave stare?"
Morte's eyes bugged out of their sockets a little, "Wha- are you BLIND?! She was scouting me out! It was shameless the way she WANTED me."
I heard the zombie give a low moan. I wasn't able to quite parse it, but to my ears it sounded a bit like "Brains..."
I chuckled, "Wanted you to go away, maybe. She was obviously too distracted by ME to pay attention to some stupid bobbing head with a big mouth."
"You? Yeah, right!" Morte clicked his teeth for emphasis, "Trust me, chits beyond the grave don't care about all that 'physicality' and 'I've got a body' and 'I'm all scarred and tough-looking.' They want guys with SPIRIT. That's me, chief. You? Corpses like YOU are as common as a copper."
I waved him away as we walked further down along the rooms. By now the corpses no longer fazed me... too much, at least. As in the first room I searched the shelves of this one for anything useful, and spied a musty old book.
While Morte eyed the zombies I flipped through it, skimming the protocols and procedures with receiving corpses, and flipped through the listing of bodies. There were thousands: tens of thousands, each with a short description. I turned to the most recent entries, but curiously, the last page had been taken. The paper still had a fine edge, as if cut.
Nothing to be done here, I opened the door. A huge book stood in the center of the third room. It was eight feet tall, at least, with worn yellow pages and tattered, aged leather stretched across its length. Behind it sat an old man, his skin wrinkled with a trace of yellow, like old parchment. Charcoal-gray eyes lay within his angular face, and a large, white beard flowed down the front of his robes. I gave a start.
He didn't seem to notice me in his work, steadily scratching at the book with a large blue quill. His breathing was irregular, yet his occasional coughing did nothing to interrupt his transcribing.
"Uh... greetings?" I said nervously. Given the heavy grinding of the metal door he must have noticed me by now.
"Whoa, chief! What are you doing?"
"I was just going to speak with this scribe. He might know something about how I got here." That, and I thought we might as well take a chance and hope brute honesty wouldn't get him to call the guards.
"Look, rattling your bone-box with Dusties should be the LAST thing-" a violent coughing fit interrupted Morte's chittering, dying down after a moment into his normal ragged wheeze, "And we especially shouldn't be swapping the chant with sick Dusties. C'mon, let's leave. The quicker we give this place the laugh, the bet-"
Before Morte was able to finish, the scribe's gray eyes flickered to me, "The weight of years hangs heavy upon me, Restless One," he placed his quill in his lap, "...but I do not yet count deafness among my ailments."
I stuttered in response to his cold, admonishing voice, "Er... uhm. Could you please tell me where we are? We seem to have gotten lost, and... uh..." I trailed off.
"As always, the question. And the wrong question, as always. You are in the Mortuary, Restless One. Again you have... come..." before he could finish, the old man broke out in a fit of coughing. It took a moment for his breathing to resume its ragged wheeze, "...this is the waiting room for those about to depart the shadow of this life, where the dead are brought to be interred or cremated. It is our responsibility as Dustmen to care for the dead, those who have left this shadow of life and walk the path to True Death."
His voice dropped in concern, "Your wounds must have exacted a heavy toll if you do not recognize this place. It is almost your home."
"You..." I swallowed nervously, "You seem to recognize me. Do we know each other?"
Dhall nodded, "I am Dhall, a scribe, a cataloger of all the shells that come to this Mortuary," he gave a slight bow, but the movement suddenly sent him into a bout of coughing. He continued when he was able to steady himself, "But know you? I..." a bitterness touched his voice, "I have never known you, Restless One. No more than you have known yourself. You have forgotten, have you not?"
I nodded. "What exactly do you mean, 'Shadow of Life?'" This place felt real enough, and despite my scars I walk, breathe, and I could feel my heart beat, and already I was beginning to feel a bit hungry, despite the grotesque surroundings.
"Yes, a shadow. You see, Restless One, this life... it is not real. Your life, my life, they are shadows, flickerings of what life once was. This 'life' is where we end up after we die. And here we remain... trapped. Caged. Until we can reach True Death."
I put a hand up to my chest to feel the strong, rhythmic thudding there, as if to reassure myself, "What makes you think this life isn't real?"
"What makes you think this life is real?" he countered bitterly, "Look inside yourself. Do you not feel something lacking?" He shook his head, "This is a purgatory. There is only sorrow here. Misery. Torment. These are not the elements that make up 'life.' They are part of the cage that traps us in this shadow."
Torment. The word seemed to cling, cutting the air with its barbs, and a vision of blood and fire, of a pointed metal symbol flashed in my mind for an instant. I shook my head and tried to steady my voice, "I think your fatalism has gotten the better of you. Those elements are part of life, but not the whole of it." I hoped. I certainly could not remember the last time I laughed, sang, or fell in love.
"Passions carry weight," he said disparagingly, "They anchor many to this shadow of life. As long as one clings to emotion, they will be continually reborn into this 'life,' forever suffering, never knowing the purity of True Death."
"So... you have a plan for escaping this cycle, I assume."
Dhall cleared his throat, "Kill your passions. Strip yourself of the need for sensation. When you are truly cleansed, then the cycle of rebirth will end, and you achieve peace." He turned away to stare into the distance, "Past these shells of ours, past the Eternal Boundary between death and 'life,' lies the peace that all souls seek. Non-existence. A state devoid of reason, of sensation, of passion," He coughed, "A state of purity."
A chill ran up my spine, "Sounds like oblivion."
"Is it worse than remaining in this shadow of what life once was? I think not."
I looked to Morte, who was opening his jaws in a yawn, before I faced Dhall again, "I've been told that the Dustmen want me dead."
Dhall sighed, "We Dustmen are a faction, a gathering of those of us that recognize the illusion of this life. We await the next life, and help others on their journey." He gave me a sad, level look, "It is said there are souls who can never attain the True Death. Death has forsaken them, and their names shall never be penned in the Dead Book. To awake from death as you have done... suggests you are one of these souls. Your existence is unacceptable to our faction."
Annoying as he was, I wished Morte would say something. A joke to ease things. "That doesn't sound like it leaves me in a good position."
"You must understand. Your existence is a blasphemy to them. Many of our faction would order you cremated... if they were aware of your affliction."
"You're a Dustman. But you don't seem to be in favor of killing me. Why not?"
"Because forcing our beliefs upon you is not just. You must give up this shadow of life on your own, not because we force you to." He looked about to break into another fit of coughing, but managed to hold it in, "As long as I remain at my post, I will protect your right to search for your own truth."
I nodded gratefully, "If that's the case, is there anything you might tell me about myself?"
He shook his head, "I know scant little of you, Restless One. I know little more of those that have journeyed with you and who now lie in our keeping." My mouth dried at those words. I had journeyed here before, companions at my side who were now dead? Dhall sighed, "I ask that you no longer ask others to join you, Restless One- where you walk, so walks misery. Let your burden be your own."
The warning struck hard, but I had to ask, "There were others who have journeyed here with me? And they are here?"
His eyes widened, "Do you not know the woman's corpse interred in the memorial hall below? I had thought that she had traveled with you in the past..." his throat seized as he approached a coughing fit, but he caught his breath, "Am I mistaken?"
I paused, digging through the cobwebs in the back of my head, looking for an answer. None came. "Where is her body?"
"The northwest memorial hall on the floor below us. Check the biers there... her name should be on one of the memorial plaques. Mayhap that will revive your memory."
"Thank you for your help..." I paused, "You seem ill. If there's anything I can do to hel-"
He waved off my offer with a gnarled old hand, "I am close now to the True Death, Restless One. It will not be long before I pass beyond the Eternal Boundary and find the peace I have been seeking. I tire of this mortal sphere..." Dhall gave a ragged sigh, "The planes hold no more wonders for one such as I."
"Are you certain? There might be some way I could help you."
"I do not wish to live forever nor live again, Restless One. I could not bear it."
I shifted awkwardly, but there was nothing left to say, "Well... I wish you well, Dhall. Thank you for your help."
As I turned to leave, Dhall spoke once more, "Know this: I do not envy you, Restless One. To be reborn as you would be a curse that I could not bear. You must come to terms with it. At some point, your path will return you here..." he coughed one last time, the sound rattling in his throat, "It is the way of all things flesh and bone."
I wondered if I would ever stop shuddering having been tossed into this bleak, bizarre world. I needed a shower. A bath. Something to rinse the acrid smell of blood and dust from my body and wash clean the grimy tang of death.
Morte and I wandered the halls, daring to search where I could, prod what I might, in the hopes that it would help me later. His chittering presence gave boldness to my hands, like an insistent childhood friend daring you to take that extra step at the risk of getting in dire trouble. Not that I remembered my childhood.
One zombie, however, caught my eye. He stood at the front of a table, facing a wall. There was no body in this room, no shelves or desks. There was no task to perform. Yet it stood there, wavering like the feather of a wounded bird caught in a cold autumn breeze. Pinned to its chest was a note. I plucked it from him, the nail loosening and widening a small gouge down its flesh.
I froze at what it said.