Starless Imperium

Morgan Argor Strange, Science Fiction Horror Author

Zyklon Xzyruz


Warning: This story contains strong themes and graphic descriptions of self-harm and suicide.

It came to me like a purge of liquor or bad blood in the middle of the night; Corrosive, obsessive, gnawing me alive from the throat to the core. Alive. I was still alive . . .

But it didn’t feel like it. Every hour I spent sitting in my room, or streetside, or even in some empty field laying in the back of my car staring up at the roof . . . Every tick of the clock felt like an ice pick behind my eyes. Talking was worse than chewing glass chips.

I spewed blood over everyone stupid enough to force their way through the barrier and talk to me anyway. Tangled them up in the razor wire for a couple minutes ‘til they ran away. It was fun watching them choke and squirm, hanging from the mundane torments of an ever-screaming presence I could never escape: Me.

It was fun until it was sad.

I cried so hard when I swallowed those pill bottles like shots that I worried I’d puke up the vodka. Those sobs that shake you like a car accident, the kind where you wonder if you’re just going to be chewed up by the metal along with the rest of the scrap.

No one listened. No one cared.

The idea first hit me when we drove from the chaos arcade in the bleak light of dawn. I knew it was finally time to talk to the metalworker for real.

I’m not sure why I thought this was anything but absolutely fucking retarded. I always thought I could swallow way more than I bit off.

But when I stared at the black candle caressed—no, held up singlehandedly—by that tumultuous blue flame, I felt more in control than I had in ages.

Nothing ever goes the way you think it will. I changed my game plan from the moment I saw how easy it was to make the flames dance. It reminded me of candle gazing with the Bloody Mary; sick memories buried deep in the brain. I didn’t poke at them.

For a moment, I felt invincible. It felt like I could do fire tricks with my own mind again. So I closed my eyes, and his single ultraviolent eye was staring back at me unblinking from far away. That was the moment that I knew it worked.

His fortress spun octarine and indigo, far away. Who knew the expanse of my headspace could stretch for vast and gaping galaxies—galaxies that would take most people lifetimes to cross, on the unlikely gamble they could even see them at all.

But that perfect circle morphed psychedelic purple and orange, then shifted back to indigo in a way I’d never seen before. I longed to embrace it on every side, or even to let it embrace me. But it didn’t matter. No matter how long I watched the colors dance with my eyes close, it never got any closer. I knew I wasn’t trying hard enough. But still, I knew I hadn’t lost my touch, because his eye burned ever-rabid even when I tilted my head back up at the ceiling.

The black flame had burned its impression into the silence of my mind. Something about knowing that invigorated me. I didn’t even know why I was there anymore, floating defenseless in the vacuum between wrong and right. I forgot the diagrams and paperwork I wanted to give him. All I wanted was to see him again. To see if he remembered me.

Finally, it was working, but it was all too fast. The fortress of a thousand shades of blood sucked me through its mouth before I could even see its spires.

I knew I was inside the fortress, but my mind is blank on what happened here. I’m not sure if it was a feeling of vast and glorious triumph, or a simple victory that I always knew I’d deserved.

You get what you fucking deserve.

There’s a gap before my body went limp and I fell to the side. I’ve passed out a lot: I know what it feels like when your body gives out on you, and this wasn’t in the normal way. I didn’t feel like a wet rag flopping at the bottom of a gutter when I tried to move. I even remember reaching up to scratch my nose, even though my limbs were heavy and my brain was warm.

I probably shouldn’t have been surprised when I woke up on the cold steel surgical table. Dethrin had just spent an hour describing his own horrors of a similar nature, so for a moment, I thought my delusions were just chasing his.

But then I felt his face next to mine, but it seemed at least five times larger. Size dilation, like the kind you get from DXM. The weirdest part was, I still felt rooted to my physical body at this point. I was on my side instead of on my back.

That wasn’t how it went in the memory.

I knew somewhere far away, my head was resting on the Raven pillow. The last thing I expected was to fall asleep. Strange seraphs whispered nonsense—or maybe those were just the silent screams of all the ones this body I possessed had eaten. If Metari himself tried to talk to me, I couldn’t hear him. I could only see his face, twinged strangely yellow to the point of nearly reading to my sick brain as gold.

He still looked half-human, like a Nazi doctor bathed in the sun-rays of the longest night on Earth.

That was when I connected that it wasn’t the surgical slab from Dethrin’s dreams, but from my own. If I recall correctly, this is the point at which I slowly began to acknowledge how deeply I was fucked.

By that point I couldn’t move, and he hovered some suitcase over me. It was like he was holding it without hands and emptying various “packets” out from it one by one. Bundles tied up with twine, or even zip-tied, discarded to a strange and unwelcoming gravity that swallowed them up, never to be heard from or seen again.

The bundles were 3D in a 5D world. Flat. I guess to humans you’d call it 2D, like a piece of paper. Maybe. They looked like a bunch of nonsense: Shoestrings, and paper strips all wound up—like side-scrap punched with holes from those old office reams that kids with Asperger’s rip off and play with for hours at a time.

He bore a strange degree of empathy as he discarded the bundles. It was like I was watching my body from the third person again—watching Metari’s objects, each representing an emotion like “sorrow” or “joy” float away down over my paralyzed flesh and off into the formless darkness. But even though he seemingly cast aside all his strongest feelings in this twisted operating theater of memory, his demeanor did not match the stories.

He was not as cold as I’d been informed. There was a mounting sadness about him, and a bizarre and striking deliberation. He cast aside each feeling with the precision of preparing operating tools.

It was all so captivating that I’m not even sure when the terror set in. Really, from the moment I felt my cheek pressed against the frigid metal again, I knew I was going to relive it. But I still didn’t feel stupid for going to see him again. I was just happy he actually came . . . Or let me in, whichever one it was.

Somehow I knew he didn’t want to relive it any more than I did.

The main thing I remember first and foremost is a fear unlike any I’d known before. There were other times I’d tried to kill myself, but this made me wonder if deep down I knew up until this point, it wasn’t going to work.

This time, it was for real. I knew from the second I saw the tubes protruding from my nose like the Exorcist before the retcon.

Up until then, it was like the first time. I was watching myself as if in remote viewing. And it stayed this way until . . . Well, we’ll get there.

And just like the first time, I felt the breathing tube slide in. Fuck, it felt like being raped in the throat and the lungs and the guts at once. I didn’t want it. I didn’t want it for a fucking second but each second was an hour, and I already turned off the clock. I hated them so fucking much for bringing me here. And I hated myself even more for being so stupid.

They barely even do this anymore. Usually they just give people charcoal because it’s pointless. But I’m guessing since the pill bottles were all so close when they found me, and it hadn’t been that long, that they decided the torture was worth the “benefit” of forcing me to live through the most humiliating and degrading act of violation I’ve ever experienced.

I deserved every second of it, I guess.

Now, here’s the weird part: When the second tube goes in, this is where my vision with Metari goes black. In the real world, I still remember all of it, and I saw it from above my body as some doctor—whose face was always obscured to me, for reasons I now deeply question—worked tirelessly to resuscitate me from the brink of death.

I’m not sure if I realized it during the vision, or after I woke up: How wrong it was that there were no nurses, only a single doctor doing the devil’s work all by himself without a bit of help. He worked so closely with what little my limp and useless body would give him: Navigating the vomit-soaked cavern of my throat with an ease that sickens me to this day, almost two decades later. Finding the proper route, shoving the plastic accordion down into my stomach.

I imagine he retraced these steps while I blacked out in his fortress this morning. But I guess that in the end, there’s no way to know. I slept long enough to burn out an entire black candle. Dethrin woke me right at the very end, literal seconds before the flame snuffed itself for good.

I have to say, it chills me to think what would have happened if I stayed under while the flame went out.

 But the first time it happened, when I split back when I was.a kid, I saw it all. I felt it, too. When they say “pump your stomach” it’s as crude as it sounds. It feels fucking disgusting. Everything you tried to kill yourself with—in my case, several full bottles of Xanax, Risperdal, washed down with as much vodka as I could choke down before I passed out—sloshes around like pebbles in a pond of slime. Your stupid body does its best to break down and absorb that which corrodes and kills it, and the pump really isn’t that different than the kind you’d use to inflate an air mattress or a pool float.

So they’re fighting against time, sloshing it all together: Stirring it up, as the acid burns through the pills faster from the disgusting vortex that forces you to choke on your own vomit, breathing tube or not.

In the real world, that was when my anger got the best of me. In the real world, that was when I decided I’d rather die than come back from that kind of violation.

I looked down on my body, so fucking frail and pathetic on the operating table. My arms had gotten thin and scrawny, and I don’t even remember why. I used to be strong. I hated the weird, lonely, ugly motherfucker I’d become. My hair was tangled, sweaty, and covered in dried puke. It looked like I’d thrown some of it up before they even got to me. By my own hand or some limbic impulse, I’ll never know. All that mattered was that I couldn’t even kill myself right.

It was working, god damn it. I was puking some of it up, along with chunks of whatever I’d eaten—I honestly don’t remember. Back then every day was an hour, and every night lasted forever, or sometimes even far longer. I recognized the white Xanax bars among the slurry. I hadn’t even bothered breaking them up, which was stupid. So fucking stupid.

The doctor pumped tirelessly, checking my vitals as he went. The disappointed tears—mostly dried to his face as he grew ever-engrossed in the devil’s work—didn’t bother him in the slightest as he forced me to throw up over and over.

Somewhere in between then and when they forced down the charcoal, the part of me that’s writing this right now died. I spent at least 11 years wandering the kingdoms of Death, staring into the worm-eaten eyes of the kid I murdered, watching him rot. Sometimes, it felt like we shared a coffin and I laid on top of him, waiting for the years to pass.

But that’s another story. A story I told in the paperwork I forgot to give to him—the metalworker who put me under, and the doctor who cried over my lost potential.

I could never figure it out before, but I understand now why he felt so god damn sad.

For some reason that will never make sense to me no matter how many times I relive the nightmare, I knew that he felt sorry for me. This wasn’t the type of thing he’d seen a thousand times. Well, maybe it was: But if so, he hadn’t cared a single one. This was something different. Something that haunts me even now.

Even though he discarded all his emotions in 2D a thousand starless aeons before the Earth was formed, he pitied me. Or maybe he pitied himself for losing a perfectly good subject. After all, I had an unusually deep understanding of natural selection, for a weird kid from a religious family who stayed a virgin ‘til 18. And I was really good at setting fires.

It had to be that. I looked really, really fucking pathetic, with all those machines hooked up to tubes and IVs screaming that I was dying, and with vomit dripping down my hair and blue lips as my vitals fell. But no one would ever feel sorry for me.

Anyone could tell that I was a piece of shit and deserved it. After all, I did it to myself.

I awoke at the wrong point to Dethrin’s voice, full of worry and fear.

“Xzyruz . . . Wake up.”

I ignored him. I was so fucking tired, and I didn’t know what world or state of decay I was in.

“Xzyruz . . . The candle’s almost out.” He shook me.

I guess that’s what finally urged me to drag myself—regretfully, but with an unexpected ease—back into a sitting position.

I collapsed against him, ignoring all his questions. I don’t even remember what he asked me, but I was in no mood to talk.

I planned to blow the candle out all along, but it cannibalized itself before I had the chance.

That scared both of us, but I’ve felt stronger since. I’ve felt more like he’s always with me, ever-lurking at my back. Making me stronger. Flooding me with the confidence I lacked back then.

Speaking of confidence, I wonder if the split version of me ever developed any after he rejected my memory and went on to become someone I would have hated.  I hope not. He doesn’t deserve it. He passed out like a bitch from the second the second tube pushed down his throat instead of enduring the trial by fire.

In those first panicked moments I perceived it as cruelty, but it didn’t take me long to realize that the metalworker was as wretchedly kind as always.

By laying out his tools, he was showing me what he did to himself, so long ago, as a result of the cruelty of others—and what the other version of me did to himself in some sad, subconscious attempt to copy him.

That’s what it took for him to stay alive, I guess. (As if life is the most precious thing in all the universe). That’s it took for him to live with what he did. So be it.

I’m glad I died.

I’m glad I died a loser, ‘cause at least I still love Death. And since I never got old enough to work a real job, I don’t feel bad about staying out ‘til dawn and feeling the night breeze whip through my hair as I smoke Camel Wides and 99s down to the filter. And no matter how loud the music is, I’ll still bitch like it’s not my fault when everyone else has to scream over it to get through to me. I’m glad I can finally be an asshole—or, in other words, stand up for myself without bashing my head against the wall in a meltdown out of embarrassment after—and I’m glad I can wear eyeliner in public without giving a shit if people call me a faggot.

The one who made me so scared of that word’s been dead for over ten years.

But I’m alive.

There was a time where all I did was smoke weed and stare at the ceiling. I didn’t even sit on the curb anymore, and I’d even stopped crying into Sever’s voicemail. I know what it’s like to feel nothing, even with your whole life ahead of you and the world in your hands.

But the question is: What was the metalworker telling me?

Am I the discarded, 2D instruments that floated down over my body in that temple of torment, gyrating far beyond the stars? Fuck no. I’m alive. I’m about to go breathe the cool night air and do everything I missed out on for all those years. Dethrin thinks that in my vision, I saw things from the other guy’s perspective. I passed out for over two hours with that black candle burning low, and I faced unmemorable death, just like he did—but the difference is, since I jolted back to life, the fire that drove me to the brink of death started burning again.

But this time, I know how to play with it instead of letting it eat me alive.

So why don’t we go make some Molotovs or something?



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