Existence Without Existing | The Red Raven, part 4
What did it mean to exist without ever existing at all? How did it feel?
Is that the illusion of self? A voice whispered.
For a moment Joseph thought about it; it was a miserable moment. Each time he came close to something, he felt numb inside, and it frightened him.
Because he did not understand. Anything. Because he did not know what was happening to him, or what had ever happened to him, or what would happen to him.
Or if there was anything at all.
“Who is the truth?” the stranger asked.
It was the too-thin stranger, still standing in the light of that lamp. The rain was falling hard and heavy, but it never seemed to touch them.
For a second he considered the question; he wasn’t sure where to start. “That question makes no sense!” he yelled. Nothing did.
“That’s never stopped you in the past,” they retorted. “I thought you were clever.”
His face contorted, as if in pain–or was that the confusion–who knew? “Who are you talking to?”
“Who knows.” From the light of the lamp Joseph began to pick out silver lines around the stranger, radiating from them like the spokes of a wheel. “Ask him!” The stranger pointed a finger at the empty space surrounding Joseph.
“Ask who?” Joseph turned around in a full 180 degree circle, but there was no one else. He lowered his eyes to the ground. He felt . . . An overwhelming shame . . . “What is happening to me?”
He looked up to find a ravens skull inches away from his face.
A week dragged by, followed by another. As the summer waned, fall came in like a roaring lion; the rains had persisted up till this point and showed no indication of taking a break. Up in the countryside the leaves were already the colour of fire and much of the land was showing the signs of decay.
Joseph slowly opened his eyes. To his eyes the landscape stood stark against an iron-grey backdrop. For the time being the rains had slowed to a mere drizzle. He sighed, stretched out his legs for a moment, then resumed his sitting position on the cart. From time to time he would shift his weight. The cart was loaded with bales of hay which poked him in the back. He didn’t know what was worse: being pursued, carrying a highly valued ‘artifact’, having strange dreams, or riding in a stinking hay wagon.
Over all, he was miserable. Joseph prayed that they would reach the next town soon.
Another week passed. The only change was his mode of transportation, being his own two feet. Up till this point Joseph had made good time–one could go as far to call it phenomenal. Despite the precautions he had expected things to go wrong from the start. They almost did, more than once. To his surprise he had made it this far.
How far could he keep this up?
It would only be a matter of time before they found him. Joseph shuddered at the thought of what they’d do to him if they did. They haven’t caught up with me yet! he reminded himself. The sordid weather and the lack of sleep were taking their toll on him.
“Have you figured it out yet?”
Joseph found himself at this familiar scene once more. Night after night he had the same dream. No. Night after night the dream picked up where it had left off; it was driving him insane. Some things changed . . . He was standing in a clearing surrounded by strange trees. It was difficult for him to process. There was light, but there were no stars, sun or moon to speak of. Only thick, impenetrable darkness. “Nothingness. Nowhere,” he mumbled to himself. “And the same riddles every night!”
“They’re not riddles.”
“Shut up!” Joseph spat. The too-thin stranger was insufferable.
“Ooooooh! Oooh!” Their voice became soft. “I see you’ve developed a personality over the past few days!” A round of snide laughter filled the clearing, echoing off the trees, filling Joseph’s head.
“AAGHH!” He clamped his hands over his ears. When the echoing subsided Joseph found that his eyes had been shut. They were watering. As he lowered his hands he half expected to find them covered in blood; they weren’t. Instant relief flooded through him. “What the hell was that for?” he demanded.
There was a pregnant pause. Then came their reply. “For developing a personality!”
Joseph made a rude gesture with his hands. No one was in sight, but he knew the too-thin stranger was watching him from afar.
“I’m going to wake up if you don’t stop this! Get out of my damn mind!”
A shadow streaked past him. Joseph grit his teeth; lately he had begun to question whether this was a dream, or if he had ever left Reyk at all. His whole body stiffened all of a sudden. Something about this place had changed.
He was not alone.
Behind him, Joseph felt more than saw that someone was there. They were . . . massive. Fear made him tense up like a coil–he was ready to spring at a moments notice. Whatever warmth he had felt melted away. Numb. There was nothing to feel, then–
“Now, do you understand?”
Who was this new presence? Could it be the too-thin stranger? No, Joseph thought, and then: yes. That voice was like the stranger, yet so unlike them too; he couldn’t place anything, gender, age. Only size. And they felt massive.
The question had yet to be answered. Did he understand? How did one exist without ever existing at all?
When a mask–everything about them–had melted away, leaving nothing to feel but the cold of whatever purpose they had been tasked with . . .
Joseph faced the thing. “You’ve done nothing but chase me. Why is that?”