Long abandoned any hope of arriving before the last sun, before its red paints the ruins. Hoping only to see them, one last time; before light itself ends, and day becomes a memory.
The dark at my heels, devouring land and distance and time; memory and experience and everything, everything, everything.
Not a wound; a wound might heal, a wound might be stitched or bound. No...absence, the obliteration of even possibility. Devouring all; every star, every dream, every playground I've ever known.
Leaving only this; the last, decaying outposts of being, the temples erected against it, by those I no longer remember, those already given to it: the mad ones who maybe still wander, who still scrape some semblance of living from the shattered stone.
So cold, here; the dusk scarlet and heavy, shadows dense, almost fungal. Dead trees, dead flowers; grasses dried to shards and splinters. Great idols and sepulchers, partially swallowed by the earth, listing at strange angles, shattered or obscured by infestations of long dead weeds.
Distantly, within the walls, beneath the earth...music, the stuttering rhythms of the engines they built, that they stole and scavenged and cannibalised; murdered entire civilisations and species to attain, orchestrated wars and genocides and pogroms and apocalypses to shame any and all in history to discover.
Hated, denied; many not believing, not understanding, even when they saw evidence of it with their own eyes: the emptiness undoing all, swallowing their creeds and cultures, their empires that spanned stars and realities...some even concocting their own means of sustaining against it, of insulating themselves...
Dead dreams, now. Forgotten.
Scrabbling, a serrated knife twisting in my belly, hunger that has waxed over leagues and miles of desolation, where there has been nothing, nothing to sustain; nothing to even sift from the air or dig up from the charred dunes. No bones to gnaw or sewage to sup on; no vermin to devour.
Not even ghosts. Even ghosts can provide sustenance, to those who know the means of their rendering.
The absence taking them, too.
Weary, stumbling, half mad with it, what clothes remain to me scraping over lesions and sores, infected, weeping wounds.
Laughing, knowing that I've endured worse, though I can't recall where or when; what faces I wore, what roles I played.
Maybe for the best; maybe what we all deserve, at the end:
No more deceptions, no more theatres; only the unravelling we have denied and denied and denied with every mask, every contrived and practised verse, every orchestrated step of the dance.
Grinning, though many of my teeth are gone or shattered, grasping at a nearby statue to keep myself from toppling, bursting open against the soil, seeping away...
The scarlet sun blazing through a curious circle carved into the uppermost spire, clearly designed to capture its light at this point and channel it, a shimmering pool of arterial red staining the surrounding earth, animating the shadows, making the statues seem to grin or sneer, to weep blood or sorrow for the surrounding desolation.
Knowing their names, once; vague impressions of the saints and messiahs that inspired them: misty, smeared faces, far removed from those purportedly carved in their likeness, those that once bent knee to them, praying for guidance, not entertaining the least clue as to the truth of them in life; this one's flatulence, that one's penchant for bedding a different lover every evening, eventually losing his voice and tongue to a rot he contracted as a result. That one's casual cruelties for those that defied her word.
Saints and martyrs, prophets and messiahs.
Drunks and whore-mongers, perverts and sadists.
All one and the same, all equally forgotten, soon enough.
Maybe why I'm here; not to see, not to play witness to the final hours of light, but to hasten the end? So difficult to remember, now...so intent on the journey, on reaching this point, I've forgotten why.
Maybe they could have told me, once; the forgotten ones, my companions gone to bone and nothing along the way.
No more. Not even in dreams.
The emptiness yawning, not even cold, not attempting to snare or seduce; no need, its inevitability beyond denial, even here, in the last place, in the light of the last star.
Resisted, all this time, never turning to look, not even when I physically felt the leagues falling away at my heels, memories of the last steps and heartbeats flying apart. Warned, again and again and again: that to see it will be the end, that I'll not survive or be able to resist; that it will take me, the stories I have sewn, leaving not even echoes or shadows behind.
The urge all but irresistable, now. At least I'll have that, at the end: a moment, a heartbeat of the most terrible purity, the only perfection that can ever be. Then, I'll be one with it, and with all that will never be again.
The gates long since torn away, walls rent and collapsed; shattered in numerous assaults and cataclysms, sabotages and betrayals.
Remembering...the stories I've heard, the rumours that have whispered on the winds from this place: the temple perpetually under siege, by its last days, those that denied the very notion of oblivion in common cause with those that regarded it as holy; the final solution of whatever creator and destroyer they worshiped.
Smiling at that, the bitter irony; that even gods succumbed to it. I've seen, watched them stand against it, rouse all the Arts at their disposal to forestall it.
The eldest, the most omnsicient...coming apart, consumed, before breathing a single ember, not even slowing it.
Old gods. New gods. Dark gods. Blood and fertility and elemental gods. Gods that were men and women, once; re-written and made mythic by their own hands, through rites or technology, through Arts and stolen status...all of them failing, no matter what they roused or brought to bear.
None left, now; no prayers to court them.
Only me, and this place; the engines woven throughout its every inch, whose circuits thread its stone and shattered pillars, its strange statues and icons.
I don't understand...why I'm here, why I came, why I was sent. How I've been able to outrun it where so many have stumbled, been forgotten in a thought's span.
Comapnions, co-conspirators, lovers. Betrayers. Too painful to even try; the temple's burned and broken interior shimmering before my eyes, seeming unfixed, a paused image on old and warped VHS tape, about to tear and fray apart under the strain.
Alien structures; pillars that resemble the bones of titans, sculptures of molten wax, coral-like and sea-shell formations; things grown rather than carved or sculpted. Others betraying themselves; examples of the strange machinery that the temple and its surroundings are part of; that threads invisibly through the air, on shafts of light, in the shadows: pulsing, churning masses, states impossible to discern; seeming one moment to resemble flowing, molten plastic, the next to swell into organ and nerve-like systems married to bizarre devices.
Forms visible amongst the conflux, subsumed within it, protruding from it; the only certain elements in otherwise maddening ephemera:
Slumbering things, their elongated heads bowed against their chests, arms crossed, wires and umbilici threaded through their anatomies, binding them to the temple and its systems.
Its priests and architects, its dreamers and makers.
Told not to look, not to touch, but by who, I can no longer recall. Looking regardless, no longer caring if the sight of them drives me mad, bursts my eyes in their sockets, makes my mind bleed. What difference does it make, with oblivion aching at the door?
No such punishment for my trespass; the creatures stirring as I step ito their midst, raising their elongated, swollen heads, dark eyes blinking, amber lights blazing in their depths.
Their attentions spitting me, unseen spears of fascination, pinning me from all sides, hoisting me up quivering and gasping, filled with the cold light of a Winter dawn.
Inside, scouring my emptiness, surgeon's fingers running over the hollows where memory has collapsed or been torn from me, whispering to me and one another in their strange, mellifluous tongue that seems comprised entirely of hymns.
A hideous illumination; allowing me to see as they do; how mutilated I am, a rag-doll thing, scraps and tatters of self, barely held together.
The spears retreating, apparently satisfied with their autopsy, letting me fall, crying out as bones splinter, as wounds tear against the shattered stone floor.
Not understanding their strange whispers, but catching stray echoes of emotion; a bleak humour that rises in my throat like laughter riding a vomit of blood, a weary sadness, that things have failed, that there will never be a second experiment.
Over. Nothing they or any of us can do. The most ancient, the first and last, who I have come in search of, hoping they might have something, know anything...not a means of forestalling the inevitable...I see that, now; not even me and mine were naïve enough to hope for that...only something; some secret or revelation that we might take with us, into nothing and forgetting; that might make sense of the endless, idiot round of deaths and resurrections, of the lives we have lived over and over and over...
But no; nothing here, nothing they can or will say, at the end. Nothing I might understand, even if it were otherwise.
Rising, gasping blood on every breath, spitting on the stones at my feet.
Turning from them, from my path, at last, heading out, into the crimson dusk, where I look upon nothing at last, and lose myself in its perfection.
George Lea is an entity that seems to simultaneously exist and not exist at various points and states in time and reality, mostly where there are vast quantities of cake to be had. He has a lot of books. And a cat named Rufus. What she makes of all this is anyone's guess.